Friday, 23 April 2010

Rediscovering younger days in Wexford

18 High Street in on the market today … I lived here in the early and mid-1970s

Patrick Comerford

I went in search of some dead ancestors today … and found myself remembering my early 20s.

The former Bishop’s Palace in Kilkenny, seen from the new Bishop’s House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

I was in Kilkenny yesterday for a meeting of USPG’s Irish directors in the Bishop’s House. But today wanted to take some photographs of houses and places in Co Wexford associated with previous generations of the Comerford family.

I hadn’t been back in Wexford for about six months, and it was a joy to return to my roots on a day that was bursting full of the promises of summer.

I started off in Bunclody, where the Post Office on the Mall was once a Comerford family home, and passed from them to the Lawler family.

From Bunclody, I went on out to the junction with Kilmyshall, and climbing the straight road up the hill, stopped at a small farm gate that is marked with a cross, and crossed a long field that looks down to the Slaney and the bridge at Clohamon to visit the unmarked graveyard where Eibhlín A’ Rúin is buried.

I hope to write over the next few days about the romantic story of Eibhlín A’ Rúin and how she eloped with Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, and perhaps tell the story too of the horrific outcome of the conflict between two local families, the FitzHenrys and the Ralphs.

But I was in this deserted churchyard and graveyard to photograph the graves of a number of Comerfords, including Michael Comerford, who died in 1719, John Comerford (my great-great grandfather’s brother) from Newtownbarry or Bunclody, who died in 1823, and his sons, John Comerford, who died in 1827 and William Comerford, who died in 1850.

From there it was across country to pretty Templeshambo, where the Church of Ireland Parish Church, Saint Colman’s, is being redecorated. I failed to find the grave I had visited many years ago of my great-great-great-grandfather, Edmund Comerford (died 1788), my great-great-grandfather James Comerford (died 1825), and my great-grandfather’s brother Richard Comerford (died 1848).

The interior of Saint Colman’s Church, Templeshambo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

A lot of moss and grass has grown over many of the gravestones since I was last there, and I’ll have to return with a plan of the churchyard to find the grave. But I was surprised rather than disappointed – the work that’s going on meant I was able to get inside the church, which was rebuilt in the early 19th century, see its fine interior, and stay awhile and pray.

From Templeshambo, I headed into Enniscorthy, to photograph the interior of Saint Aidan’s Cathedral – one of the splendid Pugin churches that decorate Co Wexford, and where great-grandfather James worked in the 1840s.

La Dolce Vita in Trimmer’s Lane Wexford … the finest, the best, Italian restaurant in the south-east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Then I followed the course of the River Slaney down to Ferrycarrig and Wexford Town, where I had lunch in La Dolce Vita – which must be the finest, the best, Italian restaurant in the south-east.

Trimmer’s Lane has been paved, and now makes a beautiful piazza—it would be wonderful to sit out in the open on a warm summer’s day, enjoying the food and the sunshine.

I was sorry I couldn’t get into Selskar Abbey, despite a sign saying keys could be obtained in the Westgate Centre. But I went on to take photographs of Rowe Street Church, built in the style of Pugin, the Franciscan Friary Church at the junction of John Street, Mary Street, and School Street.

The White House in School Street … the first house in Wexford I lived in (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

I also wanted to photograph two houses I had lived on: one on School Street was known as the White House when I lived there in the 1970s, but it now has a grey exterior. The second is in High Street, where I had the top storey of No 18 as my own apartment.

From the front windows at the top, I looked across to the printing works of the Wexford People. From the back window, I looked down on the crumbling old town wall. I was only a stone’s throw from where my great-grandfather and his brothers had lived and worked over a century earlier, and I was paying a minimal rent … I think it was only £3.50 a week at the time.

Now the People Printing works are gone, and the site has been incorporated into the new Opera House. I thought this development would have made No 18 a plum piece of property … but I see it’s on the market for €80,000. Should I buy? But I could never buy back those days from the sunny 1970s.

After buying the papers and some books in Byrne’s on North Main Street, I headed back up the backs of the Slaney to Enniscorthy and on to Kilmuckridge for a long walk on the beach at Morriscastle. It had been a warm, sunny day … it was almost like early summer. There were few people on the beach, and the water looked cold, but the sand was golden and light under my feet.

The beach at Morriscastle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have just started a new course of steroids in a new effort to beat the symptoms of my sarcoidosis. But my walk on the beach at Morriscastle was refreshing and reinvigorating. I can never buy back my youth … not even if I think of buying 18 High Street … but I felt better after today’s walk on the beach.

On the way back to Dublin through Co Wicklow, the golden sun was clinging onto the tops of the trees and mountains to the west, as if it was reluctant to set this evening. And I knew that even though I have sarcoidosis, sarcoidosis will never have me.