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Stephen Woulfe (1787 – 2 July 1840) was an Irish barrister and Liberal politician. He served as Solicitor-General for Ireland, 1836 and as Attorney-General for Ireland in 1838;. He was the first Roman Catholic to be appointed Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. He died young due to a combination of poor health and overwork.



Woulfe was born in Ennis, County Clare in 1787, to Stephen Woulfe and Honora Woulfe (née McNamara). His father was a distant cousin of the great general James Wolfe; his mother was a sister of Admiral James Macnamara.

He was educated at the lay college at St Patrick's College, Maynooth,[1] before becoming one of the first Catholics to attend Trinity College, Dublin where he studied law, before being called to the Bar in 1814.

He was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Cashel at a by-election in 1835, and held the seat until his resignation from the House of Commons in 1838. He showed great zeal in the fight for Catholic Emancipation; but incurred the hostility of Daniel O'Connell by arguing that the Government was entitled to have a veto on the appointment of Catholic bishops. O'Connell subjected Woulfe to public ridicule, asking "are the sheep to be left to the mercy of this wolf (Woulfe)" ? Woulfe's views endeared him to the Government and this, together with his undoubted legal ability ensured his rapid promotion.


He was married to Frances Hamill of Dowth, County Meath, and had a son and a daughter.[2] His grandson Edward Sheil (the son of his daughter Mary Leonora, who married Sir Justin Sheil) was an Irish Nationalist MP.

Chief BaronEdit

According to Elrington Ball,[3] the Court of Exchequer (Ireland) at this time had the heaviest workload of any of the Irish Courts, and its Chief Baron needed a strong physical constitution. Despite his undoubted legal ability, Woulfe's chronic ill-health made him a very poor choice for the office, and indeed he did not seek it: Maziere Brady and Edward Pennefather were his own suggested candidates. He finally yielded, though, to his party's pleas to take office and, in Ball's phrase, "the job killed him in two years".[4] He went to Baden-Baden in hope of a cure, but his health did not improve, and he died there on 2 July 1840.

Character and appearanceEdit

Woulfe was described as a man "careless of attire, awkward and angular in his movements, but very effective in his utterances; no profound lawyer, but a man of quick and shrewd observation".


  1. ^ Eoin O'Brien Conscience and Conflict: Biography of Sir Dominic Corrigan, 1802-80, Glendale Press Dublin 1983
  2. ^ Stephen Woulfe Limerick County Council Website
  3. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926
  4. ^ Judges in Ireland
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs
  • Seccombe, Thomas (1900). "Woulfe, Stephen" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 63. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

External linksEdit