Sunday, 26 July 2009

Enjoying Street’s architecture in Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Donaldytong)

Patrick Comerford

This morning [Sunday 26 July] I was the celebrant at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Once again, we had a large number of visitors, and as I stood at the West Door I met people from England, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Sweden and Germany, among other places.

The preacher this morning was my friend and former colleague, a former Precentor of the Cathedral, the Revd Canon Dr Adrian Empey, who retired last year as Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College.

This morning I also received a letter addressed to me at the cathedral, which revealed some surprising family links.

I was long aware of a Comerford family from Ireland that had lived in Somerset since the early 19th century. Although I have been unable, to date, to establish which part of Ireland these Comerfords came from, in the early part of the last century some of them moved back to Dublin and were near-neighbours of my father’s family. The coincidence of first names, among other factors, contributed to both families believing they were related.

That part of the family moved back to England again after World War I, and an inscription on a memorial in Rathfarnham Parish Hall – across the road from the house where I was born – led me to believe that the only one son in that family, Charles Henry Comerford, had died during World War I.

Now, however, a descendant of the family has written to me, and has filled out some interesting details for his branch of the family.

From the early 19th century, the Comerford family flourished in Pill St George in Somerset, near Bristol, which had a strong association with the sea and where some of the men in the family became pilots and mariners on the River Avon and in the Bristol Channel.

Edward Comerford, a pilot who lived in Pill, Somerset, in the mid-19th century, was the father of Edward John Griffin Comerford (1860-1937), who was born Pill St George, Somerset. He was 33 when he was married his first wife, Leah Adelaide Shepherd, in Pill in 1893, and they had an only son, (Dr) Charles Henry Comerford (1894-post 1924), who was born in Somerset a year after they married.

Leah died when Henry was still a small boy, and in 1909 Edward Comerford was married again in All Saints’ Church, Wraxall, near Bristol. His second wife was Mary Elizabeth Winstone of Wraxall, they moved soon after to Dublin, where Edward worked for WD & HO Wills, the Bristol-based tobacco company, as a commercial traveller.

Edward, Mary Elizabeth, and Charles were parishioners in Rathfarnham Church of Ireland parish and lived at 30 Brighton Road, Rathgar, within walking distance of a number of members of my own family – indeed I had an aunt and uncle who also worked for worked for WD & HO Wills on the South Circular Road. In Dublin, Edward and Mary had one daughter Noreen Mary, who was born in 1916.

Edward Comerford while he was still living in Dublin in 1920 ... his family lived in Rathgar during the first three decades of the last century (Photograph couresy Simon Street)

Edward and Mary Comerford continued to live at 30 Brighton Road until about 1921. Their neighbours on Brighton Road included James Walter Beckett, who lived at Number 32 Brighton Road. He was a builder, Cumann na nGaedhael TD for Dublin South (1927-1937, 1938), and an uncle of the playwright Samuel Beckett. Edward and Elizabeth Comerford later moved to Chorlton-cum-Hardy, near Manchester, England, where he died in 1937. His widow Elizabeth died in 1953 in Lisbon, Portugal, where she was living with her daughter and son-in-law.

Edward Comerford’s only son, Dr Charles Henry Comerford, was born in Pill St George, Somerset, on 16 February 1894, but grew up in Dublin, having moved to Dublin with his father and step-mother. He studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin and enlisted in the army during World War I.

Because Charles is named on the War Memorial in the War Memorial Hall (Rathfarnham Parish Hall), Rathfarnham Road, Dublin, I always thought he had died in World War I. Now, however, his nephew tells me that Charles survived the war, and worked as medical practitioner in Cane Hill, Coulsdon, Surrey. The family links with the Bristol area continued, for in 1924 Charles married May Charity Edith Henderson in the parish church in Portishead, near Bristol.

Charles Comerford’s half-sister, Noreen Mary Comerford, married John Edmund Dudley Street, a direct descendant of George Edmund Street (1824-1881), the architect whose great works include the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, along with designing the Royal Courts of Justice (the Law Courts), London, Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxford, East Grinstead Convent, and Saint Philip and saint James Church, Oxford, which now houses the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Noreen and John Street have descendants living in England.

Little did I realise, as I often gazed on George Street’s architectural wonders in Christ Church Cathedral, that there was a connection between his family and the Comerford family. Who said that the theory of “Six Degrees of Separation” works best in the Church of Ireland?