Monday, 7 September 2020

Visiting Riverview House,
a house in Bunclody with
Comerford family links

Riverview House, Bunclody, Co Wexford … once the home of Dr William Comerford Lawler (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

This summer’s road trip brought me to a number of houses that have been part of my past or part of my family story. In Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, I stopped briefly at the house I had stayed in for the summer of 2016.

In Cappoquin, Co Waterford, I visited my grandmother’s former farmhouse at Moonwee, and visited my grandparents’ grave by the banks of the River Blackwater.

In Kilkenny, I passed Ballybur Castle near Cuffesgrange, the ancestral home of my branch of the Comerford family, and visited the house in the Butterslip, where later generations of the family had lived. In Wexford town, I stopped at the house in High Street, where I had lived in the early and mid-1970s.

On the road from Kilkenny to Wexford, I stopped in Bunclody, Co Wexford, to see the Mall House, home to generations of the Comerford family in Bunclody and in more recent years the Post Office. But in Bunclody, I also visited a house with family connections that I had not visited before.

Riverview House, on Hospital Hill looks across Bunclody and down onto the River Slaney and its valley, close to the point where the River Clody flows into the Slaney at the bridge in Bunclody.

Riverview House was built as a schoolhouse in 1826, and opened as a school in 1827, and since then it has been a continuing part of the early 19th-century built heritage of Bunclody. It was built on a compact plan, centred on a doorcase, although this is now largely hidden by a later porch. The windows diminish in scale on each floor, producing a graduated visual impression.

The school closed in the later 19th century, and the former schoolhouse was converted before 1904 into a private residence to serve as both the home and the practice of Dr William Comerford Lawler (1865-1935).

During those renovations, many ‘improvements’ were made to the building. Many of the original forms have survived intact, both inside and outside the house. These include some crown or cylinder glazing panels in the hornless sash frames, and these surviving features help to uphold the character or integrity of the former schoolhouse.

Riverview House is a detached, four-bay, two-storey house, built in 1826 on a T-shaped plan. It was originally a three-bay, two-storey building, with a single-bay south and a two-bay north elevation, each of two-storeys.

There is a hipped slate roof on a T-shaped plan with terracotta ridge tiles, the rendered chimney stacks have stepped capping supporting yellow terracotta octagonal or tapered pots, and there are slate flagged eaves. The roughcast walls are bellcast over a tuck-pointed opus incertum granite plinth.

The square-headed central door has concealed dressings framing the timber panelled door. Other features include the square-headed window openings, cut-granite sills, concealed dressings and timber sash windows.

The Mall House, once the home of the Comerford and Lawler families … in time it has been the Mall Hotel, Lawler’s Hotel and the Post Office, and is now a private house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Dr William Comerford Lawler (1865-1935), of Riverview House, was born on 12 August 1865, the fifth child in a family of 10 children who were brought up in the Mall House in Newtownbarry, as Bunclody was then known.

His father, Denis Lawler (ca 1831-1892), was from Rathvilly, Co Carlow, and his mother was Anne Comerford (ca 1833-1911) from Newtownbarry. Anne was the daughter of William Comerford (ca 1792-1850), a publican and large shopkeeper in the town who also owned some land in Clonmullen. Around 1828, he married Mary Lewis (ca 1797-1873) from Clohamon.

William Comerford was among the Wexford freemen who registered to vote in March 1835. He was a juror at Ralph’s Hotel (the King’s Arms), with his father-in-law, William Lewis, after the Battle of the Pound on 20 June 1831. He was a Poor Law Guardian (today’s equivalent of a county councillor), and was a member of the committee of Newtownbarry Fever Hospital with the Hon Somerset Maxwell (1803-1884), later 8th Baron Farnham, Canon John Charles Archdall, Rector of Newtownbarry (1836-1897) and later Archdeacon of Ferns (1875-1897), the Revd James Walsh, Parish Priest of Marshalstown, and John Walsh, JP, from 1848 until his death in 1850.

William died on 3 May 1850, and he is buried in Old Kilmyshall. His widow Mary (Lewis) took over the family leases from the Farnham estate that year.

William Comerford’s daughter, Anne Lawler, had already taken over running the family businesses in Bunclody when her mother died in 1873, and in time the Mall House became the Mall Hotel and Lawler’s Hotel, run by Anne and Dennis Lawler. Her only brother, John Comerford (1843-1872), had died the previous year.

Anne was born ca 1832/1834. She married Denis Lawler on 17 August 1858 and they lived at Mall House, Newtownbarry. Denis died on 9 July 1892, Anne died on 22 May 1911, and they are buried in the Old Cemetery, Newtownbarry. They were the parents of 10 children, five sons and five daughters, including Dr William Comerford Lawler.

The River Slaney and the River Clody meet at Bunclody, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

He studied medicine in Dublin and after qualifying as both a physician and a surgeon, he was appointed a resident physician at the Mater Hospital, Dublin, and Saint Michael’s Hospital, Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire). He married Mary Elizabeth, daughter of John Bolger of Ferns, Co Wexford, in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), on 26 April 1919. The priest at the wedding was Father David Bolger, and the witnesses were Nicholas Fallon and Mary B Bolger.

Meanwhile, William was appointed the medical officer and registrar of births in the Newtownbarry (later Bunclody) district, in Enniscorthy Union, in 1896. Local newspaper reports at the time noted that ‘he belongs to an old respected Wexford family, and was a relation of the late and much lamented’ Bishop Michael Comerford.

Mary died on 23 October 1924, aged 33; William died on 23 June 1935, aged 69; they are buried in the New Cemetery on Ryland Road, Bunclody. They were the parents of three sons, including the Revd Raymond Lawler, SJ, a Jesuit priest, of Clongowes Wood, Co Kildare, who died in 2001, and one daughter. They have descendants still living.

The Mall House, or the Mall Hotel or Lawler’s Hotel, later served for many decades as the post office in Bunclody. Today, it is a private house once again.

Today, Riverview House is hidden by trees at the junction of Irish Street and Hospital Hill. Many years after Dr William Comerford Lawler died, Riverview House became the home of Major-General Frederick D Moore. Since 1997, Riverview House has been the home of the artist Josephine Grant. The views from the windows of her home, including Newtownbarry House and the Slaney Valley, feature in many of her paintings, along with colourful illustrations of the rooms and their contents.

Riverview House is the home of the artist Josephine Grant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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