Wednesday, 27 April 2016

New on-line collection shows how
three Comerfords responded in 1916

The tower and spire of Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsboro ... Father Edmond Comerford claimed for damage to the church during Easter Week 1916 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In recent weeks I have written about the role of members of the Comerford family in the events during the Easter Rising in 1916.

Newly released archives also show that three members of the Comerford family claimed for damage to their businesses and to church premises in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.

The National Archives of Ireland last week released a new on-line collection detailing more than 6,500 compensation claims that were submitted to the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising. The collection has been fully indexed and is searchable by surname, location or business name.

The applications for compensation came from individuals and businesses and involve damage to buildings and property, including loss of personal property, due the fighting, or later as a result of fire and looting.

Most of the claims came from Dublin, but there was a substantial number of claims for damage in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford and a small number in Co Galway. The files include a huge range of small items, from jewellery that had been left for repair in a jewellery shop on Sackville Street (O’Connell Street), to personal effects belonging to chambermaids working in hotels in the city centre.

The majority of claims are from individuals who lost small amounts of personal property or whose homes were damaged in the fighting. There is also a large number of claims from businesses and property owners.

Launching the new collection in the Reading Room of the National Archives in Dublin last week, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, said: “This new website provides a fascinating insight into the very personal cost of the Rising and the impact that the fighting had on both homes and businesses. As well as the lives lost during Easter Week 1916, many businesses were damaged or destroyed.”

One of the buildings completely destroyed in the Rising was the Royal Hibernian Academy on Abbey Street Lower. A number of artists lost works on display in the RHA, including Jack B Yeats and Sir John Lavery.

Three members of the Comerford family submitted compensation claims after the Rising.

John Comerford of 32 Parnell Street, Dublin, claimed for a total loss of £29 for household goods and damage to his building and the contents. He claimed his windows had been broken and his shop wrecked during Easter Week. The glass cases had been put in, and the furniture damaged included a mahogany table, six chairs, and a “chimney pier glass.”

He also sought compensation for repairs to the roof. However, a claim for £18.10.0 in cash taken from a box was not allowed, and he received a total of £14.

Nearby, at No 75A, at the junction of Parnell Street Lower and O’Connell Street, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, Tom Clarke, owned a tobacconists shop.

Miss Jane Ellen Comerford, of 76 King Street North, Dublin, was described as a spinster with income from a private source. She was the daughter of James Comerford, a well-known Dublin builder who built or designed a number of important late Victorian buildings in the North King Street area. She lived over a vacant shop with her aunts. She reported the damage this building was caused by bullets and military bombardment on Thursday 28 April in Easter Week. Her claims included damage to the building (£5.4.6) and to household furniture (£2.7.6).

The lease of the building was in the name of Patrick Brennan and had expired after a term of 31 years in March 1916. A new lease was prepared for his signature for a further 31 years, but he died on 9 May 1916.

Jane Ellen Comerford, who was his niece, applied for a new lease on 9 May in her own name. The owner of the building, a Miss Carolin, consented to this provided a small amount, exclusive of the damage done by the bullets, be laid out on the premises and that a yearly rent of 10 shillings was paid.

The inspector’s report found that the claimant had private means and was also a school attendance inspector with Dublin Corporation.

Her claims arose from damage to a shop plate glass window, replacing and painting windows, damage a pilaster at the shop front, upholstering a couch, replacing curtains, and repairing a wall damaged by bullet holes. However, the inspector who interviewed her niece believed “the amounts claimed are slightly exaggerated.”

The Revd Edmund Henry Comerford, CM, claimed for damage to the roof of the church building and the presbytery at Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsborough. Father Edmond Comerford, CM (1870-1940), a Vicentian priest priest, was born in Muckalee, Co Kilkenny, and educated at Castleknock College, Co Dublin. He joined the Vincentians in 1890 and was ordained priest in 1895.

Father Edmund worked with the Vincentian missions in Sheffield before returning to Dublin in the 1900s as Dean of Saint Vincent’s College, Castleknock. He later served in Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsboro, and was appointed Provincial Bursar in 1922. He was attached to Saint Peter’s, Phibsboro, when he died in 1940.

The chancel and transepts of Saint Peter’s were erected, together with a great central tower, by George Goldie in the early 1860s. But the construction of the tower was a controversial affair and resulted in a long and costly law-suit that began as a dispute between the architect and builder and ended with the involvement of their client. A Court Order meant the tower had to be dismantled, and the architects Ashlin and Coleman, who were heirs to the Pugin practice in Ireland, got involved in 1902. The design for the work was entrusted to the architect, George Coppinger Ashlin, and the contractor was James Kiernan of Talbot Street. They remodelled the nave and built the 200ft tower at the east end.

The damage to Saint Peter’s Church in 1916 was caused when the Railway Bridge at the North Circular Road was blown up and a large piece of stone or masonry fell on the church roof and on the presbytery on Tuesday 25 April 1916.

The damaged windows included the Rose Window, windows depicting the Sacred Heart, Saint Joseph, and a window of cathedral glass above the high altar. The church was insured for £25,000 and the windows for £5,000, and so the inspectors allowed for compensation in part only.

The Sacred Heart window in Saint Peter’s ... one of Harry Clarke’s early masterpieces (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a consequence of the damage the church windows suffered in 1916, Father Comerford commissioned the three-light window by Harry Clarke in Saint Peter’s Church in 1918, illustrated with the Sacred Heart, Saint Margaret and Saint John the Evangelist. At the time, Saint Peter’s was home to the Arch-Confraternity of the Sacred Heart in Dublin. In 1919, Harry Clarke spent almost the entire months of May, July and August working on Father Comerford’s commission, and he completed the window on 28 August 1919.

Sadly, the original tracery lights were destroyed in 1972. When the church was renovated in 1999 the window was incorporated into the design of the new Chapel of Adoration. The window is signed “H. Clarke Aug. 1919” in the third light, beside Saint Cecilia, above the lower panel.

According to John McDonough, the Director of the National Archives of Ireland, these compensation files offer “a unique window into the material damages caused in April 1916. Through these files we gain a real sense of the losses to individuals and businesses. The files will enable historians and family members to research the impact of the fighting on peoples’ lives and the claims they made in an attempt to rebuild them.”

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