27 October 2020

Imelda May celebrates her
Comerford grandparents
and their role in 1916

Joseph Comerford and Mary Morrissey were married ten years after the 1916 Rising … grandparents of the singer Imelda May

Patrick Comerford

The Dublin singer Imelda May has shared photographs on social media of her maternal grandparents – James and Maisie Comerford – who took part in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916.

The hit singer was part of the line-up in RTÉ’s 90-minute centenary show four years ago, which was broadcast live from the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. Later she said the weekend ‘was very special.’

‘It was such a pleasure to work on it,’ she said in 2016. ‘Congratulations to our President Michael D Higgins too. His heartfelt speeches were moving, honest, inspiring and uplifting.’

Later, she shared an historical photo of her grandparents, who were both involved in the 1916 rising, Maisie Morrissey and Joe Comerford, who later married in 1926, ten years after the Easter rising.

Joseph Comerford was a labourer and living at 12 Thomas Davis Street and Mary Morrissey was a machinist and living at 39 South Earl Street, when they were married in Saint Catherine’s Church, Dublin, on 2 June 1926. The witnesses were Daniel Morrissey and Margaret Comerford). Mary was the daughter of Patrick Morrissey; Joseph was the son of Joseph Comerford, a plumber.

Joseph Patrick Comerford was born at 12 Thomas Davis Street on 7 December 1901, the son of Joseph Comerford, a plumber, and Margaret (née Murray) Comerford. With a little research earlier this week, I found which branch of the Comerford family Imelda May’s grandfather was descended from.

Imelda May at Live at Chelsea at the Royal Hospital Chelsea (Photograph: Egghead06/CCO/Wikipedia)

The Irish singer, songwriter and musician Imelda Mary Higham was born Imelda Mary Clabby in Dublin on 10 July 1974, the youngest of five siblings. She is professionally known as Imelda May. She has been described as ‘a unique vocal talent,’ and is known for her musical style of rockabilly revival. She has been compared to female jazz musicians such as Billie Holiday.

She began her career in music at 16, performing with local bands and musicians. She formed her own band in 2002, and released her debut studio album, No Turning Back. After the release, she moved to London with her then-husband, guitarist Darrel Higham.

She released her second studio album, Love Tattoo in 2009, and collaborated and toured with a number of artists after its release. Her third studio album, Mayhem, was released in 2010, her fourth studio album, Tribal in 2014, and her fifth studio album Life Love Flesh Blood in 2017.

Her grandfather was a son of Joseph Comerford and Margaret Murray, who were married on 22 June 1896 in Saint Audeon’s Church, Dublin. This Joseph Comerford was born in October 1869 in Portarlington, Co Laois, the son the son of Edward Comerford, an iron moulder, and Margaret (née Byrne), and she was the daughter of John Murray, a labourer.

Saint Michael’s Church, Portarlington, built in 1839-1842 … nine Comerford children were baptised in Portarlington between 1857 and 1874 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In recent months, I have been researching this branch of the Comerford family. They originated in Portarlington, Co Laois, and later lived in the Kilmainham, Inchicore and Harold’s Cross areas of Dublin. I plan eventually to migrate this research over to my Comerford family genealogical site after I have found out more about this branch of the family.

But, as I updated my research on this family yesterday, I traced the ancestry of Imelda May’s mother back to a Comerford family living in Portarlington in the mid-19th century:

Edward Comerford, metal caster and iron moulder, of Portarlington, married Mary Byrne. They were the parents of at least nine children:

1, Mary, baptised Portarlington, April 1857.
2, Edward Comerford (1858-1938), baptised Portarlington 1858, of whom next.
3, Thomas Comerford, baptised Portarlington, September 1860.
4, Christopher Comerford, baptised Portarlington December 1862.
5, Patrick Comerford, born March 1865, baptised Portarlington, April 1865.
6, Catherine, born 21 August 1867, baptised Portarlington, September 1867.
7, Joseph Comerford (1869- ), born 23 October 1869, baptised Portarlington, and the great grandfather of Imelda May.
8, Francis Comerford, baptised April 1872.
9, Anne, baptised Portarlington May 1874.

Mary Conway married Edward Comerford in Saint James’s Church, Dublin, in 1880

The first-named son:

Edward Comerford (1858-1938), iron moulder, Great Southern and Western Railways, Inchicore, Dublin. Born in Portarlington in November 1858, he lived at 35 Kilmainham (1880), Richmond Road, Kilmainham (1884), 2 Saint Mary’s Terrace, Inchicore (1886-1888), 4 Woodfield Cottages, Inchicore (1890), 31 Phoenix Street, Kilmainham (1892), 25 Phoenix Street (1894-1898), and 19 Abercorn Terrace, Dublin (1900-1911). He married Mary Conway, daughter of John Conway, smith, and his wife Mary of 34 Kilmainham, on 17 September 1880, in Saint James’s Church, Dublin (witnesses, James McDonald, Margaret Conway).

Edward Comerford died on 26 May 1938 at Our Lady’s Hospice, Dublin; his widow Mary died on 11 March 1942 at 3 Wharton Terrace, Harold’s Cross; they are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

They were the parents of at least 13 children:

1, Margaret (1883-1883), born at 3 Saint James’s Place, Inchicore, 3 January 1883, died 5 January 1883.
2, Ellen Christina (1884-1957), born Richmond Road, Kilmainham, 17 January 1884; ‘tailoress.’ She married on 12 January 1910 Richard Cullen (1875-1947), bookbinder, of 10 Turvey Avenue, Kilmainham, in Goldenbridge Church, Dublin (witnesses Daniel Joseph O’Neill, Catherine Comerford). They lived at 3 Tyrconnell Street. Richard died 10 November 1947; Ellen died 14 March 1957. They are buried in Old Lucan Cemetery.
3, Catherine (‘Kitty’), born at 2 Saint Mary’s Terrace, Inchicore, 11 April 1886; she married twice.
4, Elizabeth (‘Lily’), born at 2 Saint Mary’s Terrace, Inchicore, 1 June 1888, married on 23 November 1910 Henry Baldwin, fitter, of 19 Abercorn Terrace, son of John Baldwin, fish merchant, in Saint James’s Church (witnesses John Comerford, Kathleen Gallagher). The family lived in Santry. They were the parents of nine children, including two who died young: Ned, aged 3, and Margaret (‘Moggy’), as well as: Cissie (Mary), unmarried; Charlotte (‘Lottie’), married Jimmy Devlin; Kitty (lived in Oldham), married Joe Thornton; Lily (lived in Leyland), married Mick Kane; and Doreen, married Patrick O’Malley.
5, John (‘Johnny’) Joseph Comerford, born 4 Woodfield Cottages, Inchicore, 16 April 1890; he later lived in Drumcondra.
6, Edward (‘Eddie’) Comerford, born 31 Phoenix Street, Kilmainham, 5 April 1892. He married Maggie Clarke, and lived at 19 Abercorn Terrace. He died in the 1970s. They had no children.
7, Anne (1894-1895), born 25 Phoenix Street, 10 May 1894, died 26 August 1895, buried Kilmainham.
8, Patrick (‘Paddy’) James Comerford (1896-1966). He was born 14 March 1896, 25 Phoenix Street, Kilmainham; he married Josephine Reilly (born 1896) and they lived in Mount Brown, Kilmainham, Dublin. He died on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1966, and is buried in Bluebell Cemetery. Their children include two daughters: Rosaleen, who died in 1997; and Anne.
9, Jeanette Frances (1898-1900), born 27 February 1898, 25 Phoenix Street; died 27 June 1900, 19 Abercorn Terrace; buried in Glasnevin.
10, Margaret Anne (1900-1909), born 18 March 1900, died 25 April 1909, 19 Abercorn Terrace; buried in Glasnevin.
11, Michael (‘Mick’) Thomas Comerford, born 8 March 1902, 19 Abercorn Terrace.
12, William (‘Bill’) Laurence Comerford, born 2 February 1904, 19 Abercorn Terrace.
13, Alfred (‘Alfie’) Bernard Comerford (1906-1941), ‘machinist’, born 25 April 1906, 19 Abercorn Terrace, died 10 September 1941, buried Bluebell Cemetery.

One of Edward Comerford's younger brothers was:

Joseph Comerford (1869- ). He was born on 23 October 1869, and baptised in Portarlington. He moved to Dublin and married Margaret Murray, daughter of John Murray, a labourer, on 22 June 1896 in Saint Audeon’s Church, Dublin. They lived at 12 Thomas Davis Street, Dublin. Their children included:

Joseph Patrick Comerford (1901- ), who was born at 12 Thomas Davis Street on 7 December 1901. He took part in the Easter Rising in 1916, when he was a member of the Irish Citizen Army in 1916. He married Mary Morrissey, machinist, daughter of Patrick Morrissey of 39 South Earl Street, were married in Saint Catherine’s Church, Dublin, on 2 June 1926 (witnesses: Daniel Morrissey and Margaret Comerford). She too took part in the 1916 as a member of Cumann na mBan.

Their children included:

1, Joe Comerford (deceased), a taxi driver.
2, Madge, a seamstress who married Tony Clabby. She died at the age of 46 and was the mother of five children, including the singer Imelda Mary Higham (born Imelda Mary Clabby 10 July 1974), professionally known as Imelda May

Ellen Christina Comerford and Richard Cullen were married in 1910

Cappagh Castle and its
tales of mediaeval knights
and a Victorian burning

Cappagh Castle, Co Limerick … probably built by the Knights of Glin at the end of the 15th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

While I was visiting Saint James’s Church, Cappagh, at the weekend, I also visited the ruins of Cappagh Castle, at the end of a small road east of this village between near Rathkeale and Askeaton in west Limerick.

Cappagh Castle is said to have been built by Dermott McEinery ca 1199-1216 in the reign of King John. But the present castle which we see today is formed of the ruins of a 70 ft tower house, built ca 1460-1480 by the Knights of Glin.

Sir John FitzJohn FitzGerald, the first Knight of Glin, also owned Glin Castle and Beagh Castle in Co Limerick.

Cappagh Castle is a tower house and its remains are within an inner bawn, of which just the north and west walls survive. The north side is a strong tower, with an inner and outer enclosure. The outer enclosure has turrets at the eastern angles and the castle is fenced by low crags to the west.

The keep is about 70 ft high and measures 41 ft by 30 ft. It is five storeys high, with the third and fourth storeys resting on vaults. The east end contained the stairs, while the porch and small vaulted rooms were at the south-east.

Cappagh Castle was recorded in 1578, when it was standing on an artificial mound, with five floors and 20 metres in height.

The castle passed into the hands of Sir William Drury (1503-1577), President of Munster, later into the possession of Ulick Browne, and then in 1587 to Sir Gilbert Gerard (1523-1593).

Cappagh House was built in 1607, indicating the change in fashion among landed families away from castles to large houses as their preferred residence.

Cappagh Castle and Callow Castle fell to Irish forces during the Confederate Wars, after a blockade in 1642. The castle was described as ‘ruined’ a little more than a decade later, when the Civil Survey records in 1654-1656 that Cappagh had been held by Gerratt Curnoge, an ‘Irish Papist’, and had been given to Nicholas Dowdall, an English proprietor.

The Peppard family was living at Cappagh from the early 18th century. When the bridge across the River Deel River was built in the townland of Scart in 1747, Cappagh was on the main road from Limerick to Shanagolden.

According to legend, Fitzgerald of Ballyglehane Castle (Hollypark) gave the use of Cappagh Castle to his unmarried brother in 1827. When Fitzgerald’s wife expressed a wish to live at Cappagh Castle, the brother blew up and burned down the castle the day before she was due to move in.

Eyre Lloyd of Wales and William Hammond of Dublin were proprietors of the townland of Cappagh ca 1840. At that time, Robert Peppard lived at Cappagh House, then described as an irregular, two-storey house, part of it built 120 years previously with later additions.

The last family member to live at Cappagh House died in 1938. The house had a number of owners in the 20th century and the interior was badly burnt by fire in 1983 but has since been restored.

As for Cappagh Castle, the banqueting hall was used for many years as a handball court by the Cappagh handball club, the ball being played on the west wall. The club moved to a newly-built court in 1969.

In recent decades, Cappagh Castle was owned by Patrick Fitzgerald, an authority on local history. The castle is now owned by PJ Barry and his family, who live in a bungalow nearby.

Cappagh Castle seen from the road near Cappagh village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)