19 March 2018

How the Comerfords have
been welcoming visitors to
Doonbeg long before Trump

The Trump International Golf Links and Hotel loom over the sand-dunes in Doonbeg, Co Clare (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I got to see not just one but two Saint Patrick’s Day parades this weekend: one on Saint Patrick’s Day itself, when I was invited onto the reviewing platform in Askeaton, and the second in Doonbeg, Co Clare, on Sunday afternoon [18 March 2018].

Earlier, following the Sunday services in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, and Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, two of us crossed the Shannon Estuary on the ferry from Tarbert, Co Kerry, to Kilimer, Co Clare, and drove out on to Doonbeg on the west coast of Co Clare.

Doonbeg has beautiful beaches and is known for its surfing. But initially, we thought we might look for the Trump Golf resort after the controversial comments made by last week in Washington by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

But we took the wrong turn when we arrived in Doonbeg from Kilrush, and first visited the harbour and Doonmore Castle.

Doonmore Castle collapsed in the late 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The castle was built by Philip Mac Sheeda Nor McCon. The Annals of the Four Masters refer to it as Dun More Mhic an Fhearnachaigh. At the end of the 16th century, the castle was in the possession of Donough Mac Dermot Mac an Fhearmachaigh, but Mahon MacGorman held title to one third of the castle and all of Donough’s Land.

Sir Daniel O’Brien of Dough owned the castle in 1574. Two decades later, in 1594, Mahon MacGorman assigned his interest in the place to the Earl of Thomond. Murrough MacGucarrick claimed the castle in 1619. Doonmore was confiscated by the crown in 1688 and was sold in 1703.

The castle was still inhabited in 1808, but it was in ruins in 1837. A turret at the south-west corner fell around 1898, bringing most of the walls of the upper room with it. The rest of the castle was pulled down soon after, leaving only the lower portion, from the stone vault down, intact.

The long sandy beach below the Trump Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

We drove back through Doonbeg to the other side of the bay, then along the banks of the Creegh River, and eventually found ourselves at the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel.

If Trump delivers on his commitment to Leo Varadkar to visit his property in Doonbeg next year, then it was important to know where this is, and to understand all the fuss in recent days.

It seeks contradictory in so many ways that a man who denies global warming should seek government funding to protect his golf course from the erosion of the sand dunes on the beach – which is being exacerbated by climate change.

The wind chill made it a bitingly cold afternoon, the waves were high, and although the tide was out and long, white-and-golden sandy beach stretched out before us, we walked for only a short time, and returned to Doonbeg. We were in search of lunch, but nothing could entice me to explore the possibility of lunch in a Trump Hotel … no matter what the food is like, or how enticing the menu might be, nothing could entice me to add to that man’s wealth, no matter how meagre my contribution might be.

With Tommy Comerford and his daughter Rebecca at Comerford’s Bar in Doonbeg

Back in the heart of Doonbeg, a flatbed truck had been converted into a reviewing platform outside Comerford’s Bar, and the Saint Patrick’s Day parade was about to begin … a day after Saint Patrick’s Day.

I tried to take advantage of the absence of traffic immediately before the parade to photograph Comerford’s Bar. But I was recognised immediately as the author of the Comerford Family History blog, and Tommy Comerford and his daughter Rebecca, who were decorating the platform, invited us into Comerford’s Bar, their family-run pub and a popular music venue.

Comerford’s Bar dates from 1848, according to signs in the pub, but it has origins from earlier in the previous decade.

The Comerford family of Doonbeg is said to have originated at Clare Cottage, once known as Comerford Lodge, a pre-famine thatched cottage in Spanish Point.

In 1839, George Comerford, originally from Spanish Point, married Lucy Burns, whose family owned the pub in Doonbeg. At first, Comerford’s Bar was a single-storey thatched premises selling a variety of household groceries and serving drink at the bar.

George Comerford and Mary O’Gorman were married on 28 February 1900 (Comerford family collection)

George and Lucy Comerford were the parents of 11 children, including George, who remained in the family home. George Comerford and Mary (‘Minnie’) O’Gorman were married on 28 February 1900 and they were the parents of three children, George, Isaac and May. Minnie died on 1 November 1916, aged 52, George died on 3 July 1925, and they are buried in Doobeg.

Their eldest son, George Comerford, married Mary Anne (‘Doto’) Kent and they developed an export market for mackerel to France in the 1920s, employing local men and women to clean and prepare the fish for export. The mackerel export business wound up in the 1940s and the family decided to concentrate on farming and the bar trade.

Meanwhile, the second son, Isaac Comerford (1902-1983), remained in the Comerford family home and married Teresa Madigan. They had 11 children, of whom eight survived and two of them now run the establishment, Ita and Tommy. Inside, the premises were completely renovated in 2002.

It was a busy weekend, and I was introduced to countless other members of the family were working behind the bar and quick to offer a warm welcome.

Inside Comerford’s Bar in Doobeg, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

After the parade, our warm welcome in Comerford’s Bar, and lunch in Tubbridy’s, we returned briefly to Comerford’s Bar and then visited the Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven.

This church was built in 1976, replacing an earlier church built in 1813. It has an uncommon octagonal shape, and its stained-glass windows are designed so that different colours pour down onto the altar throughout the day.

We drove back along the coast and the Wild Atlantic Way to Kilkee, and then on to Kilimer to catch the ferry back to Tarbert and to head back to Askeaton.

The modern cloisters at the Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven in Doonbeg (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 34:
Lichfield 2: Receives Cross

‘Receives Cross’ … Station 2 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Pilate condemns Jesus to die (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my meditations and reflections in Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations. The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last month and continues until the end of Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

Lichfield 2: ‘Receives Cross’

For the last two weeks in Lent, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield. Since the age of 19, I have regarded this chapel as my spiritual home.

In the Church Calendar, today [19 March] is also the Feast of Saint Joseph.

The Second Station in the Stations of the Cross has a traditional description such as ‘Jesus takes his cross.’ But in the Second Station in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, instead of a traditional full description, there are two simple words in plain capital letters: ‘Receives Cross.’

It is an awkward moment. Christ received the Cross with a soldier who faces him. He holds the Cross gently with his left hand and his right arm. But he is going to have to turn around so that he can carry it on his shoulder and his back.

The Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia) is often translated as ‘conversion,’ or a transformative change of heart,’ especially: a spiritual conversion.’ But the Hebrew and Latin equivalents convey the sense of having to turn around.

I first turned around and found myself on a new journey in faith when I walked into this chapel on a summer evening in 1971, when I was a 19-year-old.

Having received the Cross, Christ is going to turn around for his journey to Calvary. In Lent, he invites us too to turn around too and to join him on this journey.

As Christ takes up his Cross in this station in Lichfield this morning, I think of Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield, where pilgrims once took their own crosses in their hands as they walked along the final stage of the pilgrims’ route between the shrine of Saint Werburgh in Chester and the shrine of Saint Chad in Lichfield.

When I am back in Lichfield, I often stay at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, on the northern edges of the cathedral city. The Hedgehog stands on a hill, with sweeping views across the countryside, and across to the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral. Below the bank on one side is Cross in Hand Lane, a meandering country lane that leads out into open countryside, with fields and brooks, leading north to the villages of Farewell and Chorley.

Some historians say a little hamlet once stood half-way between Lichfield and the old Benedictine Convent of Farewell, and this hamlet was called Cross-in-Hand, because of the frequent monastic processions between the Benedictine nunnery at Farewell and the cathedral in Lichfield.

The route is being developed as the Two Saints’ Way, with a team of volunteer local co-ordinators to oversee each section of the route in their locality, making sure the footpaths are clear and the signs stay in place. A recent book by David Pott, The Two Saints’ Way (2015), with maps and instructions, is a beautifully presented and attractive invitation to set out on this pilgrim route. There is a wealth of practical detail and information, with interesting and inspiring content.

This year, Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield and a group of people from across the diocese, including seven first-year curates, walked a pilgrim route Shrewsbury to Lichfield earlier in Lent, beginning on 27 February, and walking through Shrewsbury, Wrockwardine, Telford, Shifnal, Tong, Brewood, Penkridge, Chasetown, Cannock Wood, Gentleshaw and Farewell.

The last stage of their pilgrims’ walk was the four miles from Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell, along Cross in Hand Lane, arriving in Lichfield Cathedral on 1 March in time for the Saint Chad’s Day celebrations.

Cross in Hand Lane, Lichfield … a mediaeval pilgrim route for people who took up their cross on the route from Farewell to Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword has passed.


Splinters. Heavy, rough wood. The scent of the hill country. A single beam laid across the back of a carpenter. The crowd jeers. The procession to the place of the skull begins.


Obedient Lord, you asked us each to take up our cross and follow you. Then you took up your own cross and led the way not just to Calvary, but to the empty tomb and beyond. Give us the courage to follow where you lead. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, as you accepted your cross, you knew you would carry it to your death on Calvary. You knew it would not be easy, but you accepted it and carried it just the same.

The Collect of the Day (Saint Joseph):

God our Father,
who from the family of your servant David
raised up Joseph the carpenter
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Give us grace to follow his example
of faithful obedience to your commands;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
whose Son grew in wisdom and stature
in the home of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth,
and on the wood of the cross perfected
the work of the world’s salvation.
Help us, strengthened by this sacrament of his passion,
to count the wisdom of the world as foolishness,
and to walk with him in simplicity and trust;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: ‘First Fall’ … Station 3 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus falls for the first time.

Yesterday’s reflection

A walk along Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield last Easter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)