DR. A. H. CLAIRE
Sebastian Wolff OSB
Monk Musician Pastor
Chapter 1 – Origins – 1929
Chapter 2 – The Road to Galway
Chapter 3 – The Road to Buckfast
Chapter 4 – Buckfast Abbey c. 1948
Chapter 5 - The Second Vatican Council
Chapter 6 – Ministry
Chapter 7 - A brief commentary on the organ music of Sebastian Wolff and a list of his choral music - By Dr A. H. Claire
Chapter 8 Fellow Travellers – voices of appreciation
This brief look at the long and varied life of one man is not meant as a critical evaluation but, rather, a celebration of how a life, on the face of it so different to most of us, can affect others for the good. I am grateful to all the contributors whose generous comments have helped capture something of our subject. I would particularly like to thank Dr A. H. Claire for his invaluable contributions and encouragement. I am grateful to Liz Keane and the Loughrea choir for their support. Thanks, too, to Cathy Johnson, for her comments and reading. Also, for his support and personal insights, Dr Chris Murray. All errors and omissions remain my own.
Dr Simon Uttley
London, October 2018
The 4th of October 1929 was a day like any other day in Loughrea, some 22 miles East of Galway City, when the young Francis Joseph was born to parents, Karl and Dorothea. The birth was not straightforward and there was a real concern that the baby might not survive, so much so that the Protestant midwife performed a conditional baptism1 prior to Francis later being baptised again in the local cathedral.
Picturesque and bucolic though it may have been, the Galway region had witnessed its own dramas in the years preceding the birth of a boy whose German parentage, itself, was to be one of the many formative strands in the development of the man, the musician and the monk.
Galway city had played a relatively minor role in the upheaval in Ireland from 1916–1923. In 1916, during the Easter Rising, Liam Mellows mobilised the local Irish Volunteers in the area to attack the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Oranmore, just outside Galway. However they failed to take it and later surrendered in Athenry. During the Irish War of Independence 1919–21, Galway was the western headquarters for the British Army. Their overwhelming force in the city meant that the local Irish Republican Army could do little against them. The only initiatives were taken by the University battalion of the IRA, who were reprimanded by the local IRA commander who was afraid they would provoke reprisals. This fear was not without justification, as the nearby town of Tuam was sacked on two occasions by the Black and Tans in July and September 1920.
Fig 2 The feared Black and Tans detain a suspected IRA operative [©Military History Now]
In November 1920, a Galway City Catholic priest, Fr. Michael Griffin, was abducted and shot by the British forces. His body was found in a bog in Barna. Galway businessmen launched a boycott against Northern Irish goods from December 1919 onwards in protest against the loyalist attacks on Catholic nationalists in Belfast, a protest that later spread throughout the country.
Before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War (1922–23), in March 1922, Galway saw a tense stand-off between Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty troops over who would occupy the military barracks at Renmore. After fighting broke out in July 1922 the city and its military barracks were occupied by troops of the Irish Free State's National Army. Two Free State soldiers and one Anti-Treaty fighter were killed and more wounded before the National Army secured the area. The Republicans burned a number of public buildings in the centre of town before they abandoned Galway.
Into this binary world of, on the one hand, the bucolic - the pastoral - and on the other, significant political upheaval, arguably a defining trope in the Irish narrative, Francis’ father had arrived from Germany. And it was another binary – this time the combination of conservative-minded immigrant parentage amid a naturally rebellious landscape- that was, inevitably, to add its own unique ingredient to Francis’ worldview.
Francis was the third of a family of nine children, the parents having left Germany in 1927. The Wolff family hailed from the town of Jülich in the Rhineland.
A town in the district of Düren, in the federal statre of North Rhine-Westphalia, the town inhabits a border region between the historically competing powers in the Lower Rhine and Mense areas. The town and the Duchy of Jülich played an historic role from the Middle Ages up to the seventeenth century. At the time of the Wolff family’s departure the town had a population of approximately 7500, though nowadays it has grown to mearly 40,000 inhabitants.