Stockley, William Frederick Paul (1859–1943), scholar and republican, was born at Fortfield Terrace, Templeogue, Co. Dublin, fifth child and elder son among four daughters and two sons of John Surtees Stockley (1817–63), RHA, veterinary surgeon and decorated Crimean war veteran, and his wife Alicia, daughter of Joseph Gabbett of Hyde Park, Co. Limerick. After the death of his father, whose health had been impaired in the Crimea, he was reared in Co. Limerick amid numerous relatives on both sides. The family were unionist in politics and high church anglican in religion. His brother became an anglican canon, of Lichfield cathedral, England. Educated at the Rathmines school of Dr Charles Benson (qv), where he was school captain, at TCD Stockley was a senior moderator in modern literature, graduating BA in English and French (1883), and an MA (1886). A member of the Contemporary Club, he shunned organised sport, but enjoyed hillwalking and swimming. Through his professor, Edward Dowden (qv), he met such established and emerging literati as T. W. Rolleston (qv), Samuel Ferguson (qv), Aubrey de Vere (qv), and William Butler Yeats (qv); his college colleagues included Douglas Hyde (qv). After coaching for examinations and teaching French in Dublin secondary schools (1884–6), he was appointed professor of French and English at the university of New Brunswick, Canada (1886–1902), a small establishment of some 100 students. While publicly his nationalism was limited to advocacy of home rule, the introduction given him on embarkation for North America by Fenian leader John O'Leary (qv) to John Devoy (qv) suggests republican sympathies and probable membership of the IRB.
During a year of absence spent in study in France, he married (1892) Violet Osborne, daughter of painter William Osborne (qv). After her death in childbirth in Canada (1893), their daughter was reared in the Osbornes’ Dublin home. Stockley had long been deeply interested in religious matters, even throughout a period of rationalist scepticism; the tragedy galvanised a long-simmering crisis of faith, culminating in his reception into the Roman Catholic Church (1894). His religiosity, influenced profoundly by the writings of John Henry, Cardinal Newman (qv), concentrated more on church history, hagiology, and liturgy than on theology. Henceforth, his scholarship was heavily informed by a fervent catholic faith. Professor at the university of Ottawa (1902–3), and headmaster of St Mary's College, Halifax, Nova Scotia (1903–5), he returned to Ireland to become professor of history and English at QCC (1905–9); on the formation of the NUI, he became professor of English at UCC (1909–31). He married secondly (1908) Marie Germaine Kolb, daughter of Hofrat Max Kolb, director of the royal botanic gardens, Munich; they had one daughter. The family's residence at Woodside, overlooking the River Lee near Cork city, was the setting over many years for celebrated Sunday-afternoon at-homes, Stockley indulging his passion for learned conversation, especially with clergy on religious topics.
Stockley was visiting Germany when war was declared in 1914, and returned home with some difficulty. Repelled by the malevolence of jingoist wartime propaganda in Ireland and Britain, especially when echoed by academics and clergy, he was motivated to active political involvement. In the late 1910s he joined Alfred O'Rahilly (qv) in resisting efforts by UCC president Bertram Windle (qv) to establish a university of Munster, independent of the NUI, as a ploy to consolidate the prevailing unionist control of UCC. Joining Sinn Féin in 1916, he was an active propagandist in print and on public platforms, and was elected alderman on Cork corporation (1920–28), and to Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin TD for the NUI (1921–2). Denouncing the Anglo–Irish treaty as a betrayal, he was reelected in June 1922 as an anti-treaty republican, but was defeated both in the 1923 general election and (as an independent) in a November 1923 by-election. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he remained a member of the legitimist republican second dáil, and of Comhairle na dTeachtaí, the legitimist body comprising the second-dáil TDs and abstentionist republicans returned as TDs at subsequent elections. Rebuffing efforts in 1927 to recruit him into Fianna Fáil, he remained committed to Sinn Féin. He was among the seven signatories of the statement by the executive council of the legitimist second dáil, transferring authority as the legitimate government of the Irish republic to the army council of the IRA (8 December 1938). Commencing with the 1939 British bombing campaign, the statement was cited for many years afterwards by legitimist republicans as a political and moral justification for IRA violence.
Stockley was president of the Cork literary and scientific society (1913–15) and of Cork library (1913–30). On retirement from his UCC professorship (1931), he strongly supported the successful candidacy of Daniel Corkery (qv) (1878–1964) to succeed him in the chair over that of Sean O'Faolain (qv). His publications included such Shakespearean scholarship as Reading Julius Caesar (1914) and King Henry the Fifth's poet historical (1925) (both approaching Shakespeare more as maker of ‘literature’ than working playwright); an edition (with introduction and notes) of Newman's Dream of Gerontius (1923); and Essays in Irish biography (1933), treating Thomas Moore (qv), Canon Patrick Sheehan (qv), and Dr Richard Henebry (qv). In Newman, education, and Ireland (1933) he argued that his subject's chief contribution to the Irish nation was his role in the establishment of a university specifically catholic, as such an intellectual bulwark against rationalist materialism, identified by Stockley with ‘protestant civilisation’. O'Faolain's judgment that his former professor's lectures, akin to his writings, were a ‘cloudy mystification’ of disordered minutiae and abstruse reference, while not the critique of a disinterested observer, tallies with the memories of others. Even as sympathetic a commentator as Corkery conceded (with regret) that Stockley's published criticism exerted little influence.
Stockley's elder daughter, Violet, joined the professional staff of the Ladies’ College, Cheltenham, England. He died in his last residence at Arundel, Ballintemple, Co. Cork, on 22 July 1943.