25 June 2011

Sean Comerford: a gentle soul leaves his favourite church

With my cousins May Kealy and Rita Duggan at Sean Comerford’s funeral in University Church, Dublin, this week

Patrick Comerford

I was at the funeral yesterday [Friday] of my third cousin, Sean Comerford, who was the long-serving Sacristan of the Catholic University Church in Saint Stephen’s Green. Sean died last Tuesday [21 June 2011] in Saint Francis Hospice, Raheny, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery after his Funeral Mass in Newman’s University Church.

John Oliver (‘Sean’) Comerford was born in 1938 in the South Circular Road area of Dublin. He was the only child of my father’s second cousin, Robert (Bob or Bobby) Comerford (1893-1958), and Kathleen (nee Flanagan) Comerford.

His father, Bob Comerford, was the son of my grandfather’s (much older) first cousin, James Comerford (1839-1903) of 62 Lower Clanbrassil Street and 50 Upper Clabrassil Street. The family had moved to Dublin from Netownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, and for this branch of the family, the family home was at 50 Upper Clanbrassil Street. The house is mentioned in Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses, when she recalls being at a party in Christmas 1893 – “[the year] the canal was frozen” – in Comerford’s in Clanrassil Street – two doors from the house where James Joyce says Leopold Bloom was born.

No 50 Upper Clanbrassil Street ... the Comerford family lived here, and Molly Bloom in her soliloquy speaks of a party at the Comerfords in the year Sean Comerford’s father was born (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If there ever was a party in Comerford’s that year, then it must have been to celebrate the birth of Sean’s father, Bob Comerford. Like many generations of his family, Bob was a stucco plasterer and a member of the union committee throughout the 1930s and 1940s, and was one of the organisers of the union in Belfast. He had a strong disagreement within the union with his brother Larry, and stood against him when Larry was elected union president in 1937. In an interesting twist to the family tale, Larry was married in the University Church many years before Sean went to work there.

Sean’s mother, Kathleen O’Flanagan, was from a well-known Republican family in the north inner city. Her sister, Sarah O’Flanagan, married my grandfather’s first cousin, James Comerford. Kathleen and Sean later moved to Drimnagh and then to Fairview.

He was baptised in Saint Kevin’s – and was named John because he was born close to the Feastday of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, which we celebrated on the day of Sean’s funeral. He was brought up in Dublin’s “Little Jerusalem,” and went to school at CBS Synge Street. After his Leaving Certificate, he entered the Capuchin novitiate in Cork, and it remained a lifelong disappointment for him that he had never been ordained to the priesthood.

After his parents died in 1958 and 1960, Sean went to live with a maternal aunt in Marino, and lived there for the rest of his life.

The entrance porch of University Church, Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin ... Sean Comerford’s funeral took place here this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For over half a century, Sean worked as the sacristan in Newman’s University Church in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin. His work there was recognised when he was decorated with the papal medal Benemerenti, conferred on those who have exhibited long and exceptional service to the Roman Catholic Church.

It was in that same church that Sean’s funeral mass was celebrated yesterday by the Administrator of the Church, the Very Revd Dr Ciaran O’Carroll.

Father Ciaran O’Carroll holds a doctorate in ecclesiastical history from the Gregorian University Rome, and has taught Church History at Saint Patrick's College, Maynooth, and at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe. He has contributed to a variety of works on the Catholic Church in Ireland in the 19th century, and his recent publications include Paul Cardinal Cullen: Profile of a Practical Nationalist, and a history of Universty Church. He was named the Vicar for Evangelisation in the Archdiocese of Dublin in 2010, and led the programme for the Year of Evangelisation.

Sean would have been delighted to see so many priests who have been associated with the University Church taking part in his funeral Mass, and that there were two bishops on the altar too – the Most Revd Jim Moriarty, former Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin and a former Auxiliary Bishop in the Dublin archdiocese; and the Most Revd Dr Fiachra O Ceallaigh, former Auxiliary Bishop in Dublin and Titular Bishop of Tre Taverne, Bishop Fiachra was the first friar to serve as a bishop in Ireland for over 170 years, and was once my Irish teacher at Gormanston College.

I also met some mutual cousins at Sean’s funeral: Mary Kealy, who lived at the Comerford home at 50 Upper Clanbrassil Street until the early 1970s, is Sean’s first cousin and my third cousin, and a daughter of Larry Comerford. She now lives in Sandyford. Rita Duggan, who was brought up in 50 Upper Clanbrassil Street, is also Sean’s first cousin and my third cousin.

Many years ago, Sean, May and Rita were was an immense and inspiring help to me in tracing and clarifying these branches of the Comerford family. Sean was a gentle soul, and his passing was marked appropriately and properly.

Last night, as I sat to dinner in Little Jerusalem in Rathmines and raised a glass, I toasted the memory of this son of Little Jerusalem.

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