It was with great sadness that members of Skibbereen & District Historical Society learned of the death on 5 January 2024 of Jasper Ungoed-Thomas.
Jasper died peacefully at his home in Condicote, Gloucestershire, UK, with his family around him.
Jasper will be remembered in Skibbereen for the outstanding biography of his grandfather, Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen, which was published by The Collins Press in 2008. Jasper Wolfe was born in Skibbereen in 1872, the son of a Methodist shopkeeper. Jasper had a remarkable life; he became a highly successful solicitor and founded Wolfe & Co Solicitors in Skibbereen in 1894.
A strong supporter of Home Rule, after the 1916 Rising Jasper Wolfe was appointed Crown Solicitor for the City and West Riding of Cork. Having been a target of the IRA for some years, he subsequently became a defence lawyer for dissident Republicans after the Civil War. Jasper was elected to Dáil Éireann on three occasions as an independent TD, the two elections in 1927, and again in the general election of 1932.
Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen is the story of a remarkable man and his family and is one of the most important books written concerning the history of Skibbereen. The book was launched at Skibbereen Heritage Centre on 20 September 2008 on what was a very enjoyable and memorable occasion.
Though Jasper Ungoed-Thomas was raised in Wales and London, he was a regular visitor to Skibbereen throughout his life. Jasper’s mother, Dorothy Travers Wolfe, Barrister-at-Law, married Mr Arwyn Lynn Ungoed-Thomas, Barrister-at-Law, at a ceremony in the Methodist Church in Skibbereen on 19 April 1933.
Jasper’s father, Arwyn Lynn Ungoed-Thomas, had a distinguished legal career. He was Labour MP for the Llandaff and Barry constituency from 1945–50 and sat for Leicester North-West from a by-election in 1950 until 1962. He served as Solicitor General in 1949–51 and was appointed a judge of the High Court in April 1962.
Jasper Ungoed-Thomas was a history graduate of Oxford and worked as a teacher, education researcher and schools’ inspector. He also published widely on education and was an education consultant. Jasper’s Vision of a School: The Good School in the Good Society, published in 1997, is a thought-provoking work that offers a convincing argument for what a good school should be.
It was in 2001 when he was researching for the book on his grandfather that we first met Jasper. He visited West Cork for a few weeks every August or September. He loved his annual visit to Skibbereen and enjoyed meeting people here. He was a brilliant intellectual, he was the best and the easiest of company and he was a great conversationalist. Jasper and Gerald O’Brien, president of Skibbereen & District Historical Society, struck up a particularly good friendship and it was a great privilege to be in their company on many occasions when the topics of conversation ranged far and wide.
Jasper was an avid supporter of the historical society and read the annual journal each year from cover to cover. He contributed to a number of the journals, including the first one published in 2005. With the kind permission of Daisy Swanton, Jasper edited a detailed diary of Willie Kingston, a solicitor who was born in Skibbereen and who worked for Jasper’s grandfather, Jasper Wolfe. In volume 6, 2010, Jasper wrote a particularly significant article ‘IRA Sectarianism in Skibbereen?’. In volume 10, 2014, Jasper and Terri Kearney collaborated on a beautiful piece titled ‘Lick Hill Cave and its inscriptions’. In volume 12, 2016, he collaborated with Richard Vickery and Gerald O’Brien in a brilliant piece on the Skibbereen Skellig List.
For some 20 years we greatly enjoyed Jasper’s company for a few weeks in early autumn. We know he enjoyed his time in Skibbereen, he felt very much at home here. We will remember Jasper fondly and the biography of his grandfather Jasper Wolfe ensures that the Wolfe name will have a long and honourable place in the history of these parts.