Thursday, 28 December 2017

Celebrating my grandfather and
his life on his 150th birthday

Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921) ... he was born 150 years ago on 28 December 2017 (Photograph: Comerford Family Collection)

Patrick Comerford

Today marks the 150th birthday of my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921), who was born on 28 December 1867.

Although I have often shared the tragic story of his lonely death in 1921, it is worth celebrating his birthday on this day.

Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin ... Stephen Comerford was baptised and married in this church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921) was born at 7 Redmond’s Hill, between Wexford Street and Aungier Street, Dublin, on 28 December 1867. He was the fourth son and fifth and youngest child of James Comerford (ca 1817-1902) and his wife Anne (Doyle).

His father James Comerford was an arts-and-crafts stuccodore and architect from Bunclody, Co Wexford, whose works included the design of the Irish House on the corner of Wood Quay and Winetavern Street, and the Oarsman in Ringsend. Later James worked with the Board of Works as an architect and a year before he died described himself as a Civil Servant, Retired.

A few days after his birth, Stephen was baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. The church records do not record the date of his baptism, but name his sponsors or godparents as Thomas Roche and Margaret Dowdall.

As he was growing up, Stephen’s father and brothers lived mainly in the area around Lower Clanbrassil Street, a part of the Dublin that became known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’ Stephen seems to have been brought up in his teens at 62 Lower Clanbrassil Street, and at one stage it could be said it would have been impossible to walk along Clanbrassil without every other person you met being either a member of the Comerford family or a member of the Jewish community.

The presence of the Comerford family in Clanbrassil Street is celebrated by James Joyce in Ulysses, and John Henry Raleigh suggests in The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom: Ulysses as Narrative (University California Press, 1977): ‘This Anglo, somewhat toffish name, is meant to suggest, I believe, that the Blooms had some friends rather higher on the social scale than previous or subsequent to their Lombard Street West days.’

The indenture dated 23 June 1888 records Stephen’s apprenticing to his father in 1884 (Photograph: Comerford Family Collection)

At the age of 16, Stephen Comerford was apprenticed to his father, James Comerford, Operative Plasterer of the City of Dublin, ‘to learn his Art’ from 1 June 1884 for seven years, according to an indenture signed by James Comerford and Stephen Comerford and witnessed by John Hartigan and Isaac Hill.

An error in the document later gives the date 23 June 1888, but Stephen’s signature at the back of the document confirms the date 1884.

Stephen Comerford’s signature when he was apprenticed to his father (Comerford family collection)

Stephen soon became involved with his father in turning the plasterers’ guild into a trade union.

As a stucco plasterer, he worked on many of George Ashlin’s Dublin churches and on Ashlin’s hospital in Portrane. He was a member of the Society of Stucco Plasterers of Dublin and a founding member and member of the council of the Regular Stucco Plasterers’ Trade Union of the City of Dublin in 1893.

He was the Dublin branch secretary of the union in 1899, when the union organised a Parnell commemoration demonstration, and in 1902, when he took part in an Irish-language demonstration. In 1903, the union changed its name to the Operative Plasterers’ Trade Society of Dublin.

The census returns for both 1901 and 1911 show that Stephen could read, write and speak both Irish and English.

Stephen Comerford was first married in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin, on 29 November 1899, to Anne Cullen (1871-1903), of 11 Merrion Square, Dublin (the home of Sir Edward Hudson Hudson-Kinahan), daughter of Thomas Cullen, of 79 Lower Clanbrassil Street, salesman.

No 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh (right) ... Stephen Comerford was living here at the beginning of the 20th century, and his father and his first wife Anne died here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Stephen and Anne lived at lived at 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh (1899) and 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, where his father, James Comerford, died in 1902 at 85.

Stephen and Anne had three children.

Their eldest child, Edmond Joseph Comerford (1900-1905), was born at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, on 30 October 1900, and was baptised a few days later in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row (sponsors: Michael Heffernan and Elizabeth Carey). He died on 24 August 1905 in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother Anne, who had died in 1903, and his grandfather Thomas Cullen, who died in 1871. Neither Edmond’s name, nor that of his mother are included on the headstone.

Their second child, Mary (May) Josephine (1902-1973), was born in 1902 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, and was also baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. She later married John Leonard (Sean O Lionnain) (1876-1959).

Their third child, Arthur James Comerford (1903-1987), was born on 26 October 1903, and later married Kathleen Miller.

Anne (Cullen) Comerford died at the age of 32 on 16 November 1903 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue. She was buried with her father, Thomas Cullen, in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The hospital in Portrane, where Stephen Comerford worked on George Ashlin’s new chapel and hospital in the early 1900s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a widower with three small children under the age of three, Stephen commuted between Ranelagh in suburban south Dublin and Portrane, in rural north-east Co Dublin, and there he stayed with the Lynders family while working on the interior design and decoration of George Ashlin’s new hospital and chapel in Portrane and the new church being built in Donabate in the opening years of the 20th century.

Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford on their wedding day in Donabate in 1905 (Comerford family collection)

While staying with the Lynders family at the Quay House in Portrane, Stephen fell in love again. On 7 February 1905, he married my grandmother, Bridget Lynders (1875-1948), in Saint Patrick’s Church, the newly-built parish church in Donabate. Bridget Lynders, who was born on 18 April 1875, was a daughter of Patrick and Margaret (McMahon) Lynders of The Quay House, Portrane, Co Dublin.

No 2 Old Mountpleasant, Ranelagh ... Stephen Comerford lived here in the first two decades of the 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Eight months after the marriage, Stephen’s eldest son, Edmond, died on 24 August 1905 in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother Anne, who had died in 1903, and his grandfather Thomas Cullen.

Stephen and Bridget went on to have four more children, a daughter Margaret and three sons. Patrick, Robert and Stephen. They lived at 2 Mountpleasant Villas (1905-post 1907), 102 South Lotts Road, Ringsend (ca 1909), 2 Old Mountpleasant (ca 1909-ca 1913, this house is now incorporated in ‘The Hill,’ Ranelagh), and 7 Swanville Place, Rathmines, Dublin, from 1913.

A year after the outbreak of World War I, Stephen Comerford joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – ‘the Toffs and the Toughs’ – on 14 July 1915. Within days, as a private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he was sent to the Greek island of Lemnos and on to Gallipoli and Suvla Bay. He was among the few survivors evacuated to Thessaloniki. In the severe Greek winter, many of them suffered frostbite, dysentery and other sicknesses.

In the summer’s heat of 1916, more came down with malaria and were evacuated from Thessaloniki. Stephen was discharged on 3 May 1916, three days after the Easter Rising ended, and sent back to Dublin.

The medals Stephen Comerford was decorated with during World War I

His records give his regimental number as 9062, and the theatre of war is which he first served as (2B) Balkans. His medals were:

● Victory, Roll B/101 B2, p. 131;

● British, Roll B/101 B2, p. 131;

● 1914-1915 Star, Roll B/10B, p. B81.

[For Stephen Comerford’s wartime story see: Wearing a poppy so my grandfather’s story might not be lost]

No 7 Swanville Place, Rathmines ... Stephen Edward Comerford (1918-2004) was born here in 1918 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Malaria was life-threatening but life-saving – for a few months at least. The war ended on 11 November 1918 and a month later, on 14 December 1918, his youngest child – my father Stephen Edward Comerford – was born in Rathmines. But his health continued to deteriorate, no more children were born, and he died alone in hospital at the age of 53.

No 11 Merrion Square, Dublin ... Anne Cullen was living here in 1899 when she married Stephen Comerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen and Anne (Cullen) Comerford had three children:

1, Edmond Joseph Comerford (1900-1905). He was born at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin on 30 October 1900, and was baptised a few days later in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row (sponsors: Michael Heffernan and Elizabeth Carey). He died on 24 August 1905 in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother Anne (Cullen) Comerford, who had died in 1903, and his grandfather Thomas Cullen, who died in 1871. Neither Edmond’s name, nor that of his mother are included on the headstone.
2, Mary (May) Josephine (1902-1973). She was born in 1902 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, and was baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. She married in Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, on 11 October 1939 John Leonard (Sean O Lionnain) (1876-1959), civil servant, of 52 Orwell Road, Rathgar. He was born John Leonard in 1876, son of Michael Leonard and Mary Anne McCarthy of Ballyellis, Mallow Co Cork. His family owned Leonard’s Bar in Ballyhooly (now Grindels). He had moved to London by 1901, and he married his first wife, Mary J Ward (Máire Nic a Báird), in Fulham in 1911. She died in 1934. He married May Comerford in 1939. May and Sean later lived at Convabeg, Ballyhooley, Mallow, Co Cork. He died on 25 December 1959. They had no children, and May later lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, with her half-brother Patrick and half-sister Margaret. She died on 24 September 1973 and is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.
3, Arthur James Comerford (1903-1987). He was born on 26 October 1903. In 1911, he was living at The Quay, Portrane, with his stepmother’s mother, Margaret Lynders, who described him as her grandson. He first worked for Arthur Guinness and Son. From 1926, he was the clerk of the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar. He was awarded the Papal Medal Bene Merenti in 1973. He lived at 38 Rathgar Road, Dublin 6. In 1931, he married Kathleen Miller. Kathleen died on 27 November 1975, and Arthur died on 12 December 1987. They had no children and are buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.

Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate ... Stephen Comerford and Bridget Lynders were married here on 7 February 1905 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford had three sons and a daughter:

4, Patrick Thomas Comerford (1907-1971), born at 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh, on 24 November 1907. He lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, Dublin 6. He died unmarried on 22 April 1971, and is buried with his parents in Portrane, Co Dublin.
5, Robert Anthony (‘Bob’) Comerford (1909-1953), born at 102 South Lotts Road, Ringsend, Dublin, on 28 December 1909. A civil servant, he lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure. He was unmarried. He died in the Meath Hospital, Dublin, three hours after a motor accident in Leinster Road, Rathmines, on 10 August 1953. He is buried with his parents in Portrane.
6, Margaret (1912-1995), born at 2 Old Mountpleasant on 22 April 1912. She lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, Dublin 6W. She died unmarried on 14 February 1995 and is buried with her half-sister Mary in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.
7, Stephen Edward Comerford (1918-2004), my father. He lived at 83 Rathfarnham Wood, Dublin 14, and had six children (five of whom are surviving), and ten grandchildren (nine surviving).

Stephen Comerford died in hospital on 21 January 1921. He was buried in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, the old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane, close to other members of the Lynders family. His gravestone incorrectly gives his age at death as 49.

No 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure ... Bridget (Lynders) Comerford moved here in the mid-1930s, and it remained the Comerford family home for 60 years until Margaret Comerford died in 1995 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen Comerford’s widow, my grandmother, Bridget (Lynders) Comerford, continued to live at 7 Swanville Place until ca 1935. She then moved to 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure. In the 1940s, she worked as private secretary to William Norton (1900-1963), leader of the Irish Labour Party (1932-1960) and secretary of the Post Office Workers’ Union (1924-1948). She died at her home in Terenure on 25 March 1948, seven weeks after Norton became Tanaiste in the first Inter-Party Government. She was buried with her husband in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, Portrane.

My father was the only one of Stephen Comerford’s seven children to have children himself. So, malaria saved my grandfather’s life, however briefly, and ensured that he had grandchildren. His only reward was those three war medals – but even these were lost in the various family moves between Rathmines, Terenure and Rathfarnham. His lonely hospital death was filled with sadness, typifying how those soldiers were forgotten by those who sent them to war and their stories not handed on in their families.

I have worked and travelled throughout Greece and Turkey. But I never realised that my father might never been born – and I might never have been born – had my grandfather not been there, contracted malaria and been sent home from Thessaloniki in 1916.

It is worth remembering him today, a century and a half after he was born on 28 December 1867.

Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford are buried in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, Portrane; behind is the grave of her parents, Patrick and Margaret (McMahon) Lynders (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1 comment:

Ena Ronayne said...

Patrick​​ how wonderful and so beautifully written. A touching tribute to all those who survive barbaric warfare. As an adoptee I am particularly moved and think of those unable to trace family history. So many people (adoptees like myself) are without that vital piece of their jigsaw. I'm lucky though as reconnected with my mother and sister so can finally get started on my family tree. I'm touched too by your reference to Thessalonkia as the verses of the anti-recruiting song #Salonika were collected by my cousin Mick Murphy of Stoker's Lodge & Jimmy Crowley ('The Boys of Fair Hill' fame) from my granny (albeit adopted granny) Helena Ronayne.