Thursday, 21 February 2019

An insight into the role
of the Comerford family in
late mediaeval Waterford

Ornamentation in ‘The Great Parchment Book of Waterford’ recording James Walsh as Mayor of Waterford and Patrick Comerford as bailiff in 1575

Patrick Comerford

I think we all find it fascinating to find our own names on someone else’s gravestone or memorial, to find that other people with the same name want to be friends on Facebook, or to find our names in a footnote or in the index of a book.

I was browsing through the local history section in the Book Centre in Wexford last month [18 January 2019] when I came across The Great Parchment Book of Waterford, Liber Antiquissimus Civitatis Waterfordiae, edited by Niall J Byrne and published in Dublin by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 2013.

I have written on many occasions in the past about the contribution of members of the Comerford family to civic, political, social and ecclesiastical life in Waterford City. But when I turned to the index in Niall Byrne’s book, I came across no less than 60 entries for members of the Comerford family, including ten entries for family members with the name Patrick Comerford.

These entries begin in 1438, and continue until 1663, a span of 225 years. They include three mayors: Fulke Comerford (1448), Philip Comerford (1570) and Nicholas Comerford (1586); nine sheriffs: Patrick Comerford (1574), Patrick Comerford (1577), Nicholas fitzPhilip Comerford (1579), Edward Comerford (1581), Nicholas fitzPhilip Comerford (1581), George Comerford (1593), John Comerford (1594), George Comerford (1596), John Comerford (1598); and 14 bailiffs: Fulke Comerford (1438), Fulke Comerford (1478, 1480, 1481, 1489, 1493, 1497 and 1499), George Comerford (1503), George Comerford (1516), Philip Comerford (1558), Philip Comerford (1567), Patrick Comerford (1572) and Patrick Comerford (1575); as well as many aldermen and freemen.

Ornamentation in ‘The Great Parchment Book of Waterford’ recording Peter Aylward as Mayor of Waterford and Patrick Comerford as sheriff in 1577

Throughout this period, the Mayor of Waterford was also ‘admiral of the great port and haven.’

Obviously, there is some overlapping, so that many of the same family members held different offices on different occasions. But it shows how politically engaged members of the Comerford family were in late mediaeval and early modern Waterford.

Many of the details in these archives relate to the lease of lands and houses. By today’s ethical standards, it would be unacceptable that family members benefited from property transactions at a time when other members of their family were holding influential public offices.

While he was mayor in 1448-1449, Foulk or Fulke Comerford was attacked with a dagger before the council by John May, a former bailiff, who was jailed for shedding the mayor’s blood. With Peter Forstall and 31 other citizens of Waterford, he was killed in a battle with the O’Driscolls, who had landed at Tramore at the invitation of the Le Poers, on 19 June 1452.

The book shows how commercial and political life in Waterford was closely integrated with life in the neighbouring towns and cities in New Ross, Kilkenny and Wexford, and with the interests of the Ormonde Butlers.

The book, which is preserved in the Waterford Museum of Treasures, reveals the disquiet within the municipal community in Waterford with the religious at the religious and political changes introduced by the Tudor reforms in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and with the upheavals in the mid-17th century that would lead eventually to the execution of Charles I and Cromwell’s coming to power.

Of course, there are many influential members of the Comerford family who do not come to notice in thus book, including the Jesuit theologian Nicholas Comerford (1544-1599) and Patrick Comerford (1586-1652), who was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1629-1652).

Ornamentation in ‘The Great Parchment Book of Waterford’ recording Richard Strange as Mayor of Waterford and Nicholas fitzPhilip Comerford and Edward Comerford as sheriffs in 1581

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