18 October 2023

A paper in the next
‘Old Limerick Journal’
on JD Bernal and
his Sephardic ancestors

The women’s balcony in the synagogue in Córdoba … Abraham Nuñez Bernal was burned alive by the Spanish Inquisition in Córdoba in 1654 … one of my photographs in the forthcoming edition of the ‘Old Limerick Journal’ (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was delighted earlier this week to receive the final proofs of a substantial paper I have written for the Winter 2023 edition of the Old Limerick Journal. The journal is edited by Tom Donovan and published by the Limerick Museum at the Old Franciscan Friary on Henry Street, Limerick.

My eight-page paper, ‘The Sephardic family roots and heritage of John Desmond Bernal, Limerick scientist,’ is to appear on pp 46-53 in the forthcoming edition of the Old Limerick Journal. It includes 10 photographs, including photographs I have taken of places associated with Bernal’s ancestors, in Córdoba, Venice, London, Limerick and Nenagh.

John Desmond Bernal (1901-1971) was one of the most interesting and important Irish-born scientists of the twentieth century. He was a crystallographer, molecular physicist, social scientist, committed Communist, campaigner for world peace, and friend of Pablo Picasso.

Many people thought Bernal was a member of the family of the prominent Victorian politician, Ralph Bernal Osborne (1808-1882), of Newtown Anner House, Co Tipperary, who was a Liberal MP for a number of English constituencies (1841-1868) before becoming MP for Waterford (1870-1874). But, in fact, his grandfather, John Bernal (1819-1898) of Limerick, was born Jacob de Isaac Haim Genese.

The ancestors of this family were Sephardic Jews who lived in Venice from at least the mid-17th century, and before that they had lived in the Ancona area of southern Italy for many generations. The family moved through Amsterdam to London, and Jacob arrived in Ireland in the 1840s from London.

Their synagogue membership in Venice shows the Genese family were of Italian Jewish (Italkim) origin rather than a family of Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition in Italy. This fascinating family with a long lineage married into some of the most eminent Sephardic families of Europe, with names like Lopes, Mendoza, Isaacs, Castro, Tubi, Nunes Martinez, Crespo and Levy.

The Ponte de Ghetto Vecchio leads into the Campo de Ghetto Nuovo in Venice … one of my photographs in the forthcoming edition of the ‘Old Limerick Journal’ (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Admittedly, I came across the family almost by accident. I was interested in two brothers, Henry (Harry) William John Comerford (1874-1958) and Albert (Bert) Alfred George Comerford (1879-1973), who had married two sisters, Rosina Sarah Sipple (1881-1958) and Agnes Violet Sipple (1884-1965).

In my genealogical research on the Comerford family, these two brothers almost slipped under the radar. They were involved in stage, theatre, show business and early films at the beginning of the last century, but they used stage names, Harry Ford and Bert Brantford, which disguised their family origins.

Eventually, as I traced their families, I realised that Rosina and Agnes, the two sisters who married these two brothers, were Jewish by birth through their mothers. Although their grandparents were from the heart of the Jewish East End in nineteenth century London, they were descended from a long line of Sephardic families, associated for many generations with the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London.

At some stage in tracing this branch of the family through the East End, Amsterdam and Seville, I also came across the story of Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), once one of the best-known and most celebrated boxers in sporting history on these islands. One hunch led to another, as is so often the case in genealogical research, and within weeks of visiting the Jewish quarter in Seville, I ended up tracing a very long-tailed family with links to Jewish communities throughout Europe.

When Jacob de Isaac Haim Genese settled in Ireland, he changed his name to John Bernal, and he moved to Limerick he became an auctioneer and a city councillor. His son, Samuel George Bernal (born 1864), bought a farm in Brookwatson on the Portumna road outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary. He was the father of five children, including John Desmond Bernal, the eldest child.

Two years ago, one of my photographs of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, featured as the front cover illustration the Winter 2021 edition of the Old Limerick Journal (No 56), with a complimentary credit and description of me inside on the title page.

In his paper in that edition of the Old Limerick Journal, the historian Des Ryan wrote about searches for ‘The Origins of the Limerick Jewish Community’ (pp 13-15), and asked whether the local newspapers were right in the 1890s to describe them as ‘Polish’ or even, on one occasion, ‘a Polish colony.’

He looked at the background of the 31 Jewish families living in Limerick at the time of the 1901 census, and found that while one family gave Poland as their place of origin, the other 30 families recorded Russia as their place of birth. In reality, most of them came from Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire.

At the time, more than 5 million people were living in an area known as ‘the Pale,’ which stretched from parts of Latvia in the north, to Odessa and the Black Sea in the south, including large parts of present-day Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Poland. Many of Jewish families in these regions fled the persecutions and pogroms that intensified after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881.

Des Ryan, the longest-running contributor to Old Limerick Journal and a member of the journal’s editorial committee, provided an interesting and invaluable list of the Jewish families living in Limerick in 1901, many of them in Collooney Street (now Wolfe Tone Street) and the surrounding area.

My research on John Desmond Bernal was first presented at lunchtime lectures in the Hunt Museum, Limerick, on 11 February 2020, and in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on 18 May 2021 (https://youtu.be/kx0OIY2J4oU)

I am looking forward to seeing the latest edition of the Old Limerick Journal when it is published in the coming weeks. I hope the responses to my story of JD Bernal’s Sephardic ancestry will include support for my belief that Limerick needs a Jewish Walking Trail, like those in many European cities.

The Winter 2023 edition of the Old Limerick Journal should be available within the next few weeks in all good bookshops in Limerick and through the museums in Limerick.

The Scuola Italiana or Italian synagogue in the heart of the Ghetto in Venice … the Genese family were members of this synagogue … one of my photographs in the forthcoming edition of the ‘Old Limerick Journal’ (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (143) 18 October 2023,
Week of Prayer for World Peace (4)

‘The struggle for peace, like the struggle for human rights and humanity, is not one in which, having reached the peak of the mountain, the final goal comes into view’ … a peak-top monastery in Meteora in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIX, 15 October 2023). The Church Calendar celebrates Saint Luke the Evangelist (18 October).

Before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer and reflection.

The Week of Prayer for World Peace began on Sunday, and so my reflections each morning this week are gathered around this theme in these ways:

1, A reflection on the Week of Prayer for World Peace ;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Week of Prayer for World Peace began with ‘A Call to Prayer for World Peace’ signed by faith leaders in 1974

A Week of Prayer for World Peace, Day 4:

The International Prayer For Peace:

Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe

Day 4, Heroes: For those working with courage to improve the world:

O Allah, the Creator of all that’s good,
bless our heroes, courageous and understood.
For those who strive to make the world better,
grant them strength and guidance in every endeavour.

Watch over those who help others in need,
their acts of kindness, a noble deed.
Guide them in their mission, both big and small,
as they spread love and kindness to all.

Bless our heroes, young and old,
with bravery and hearts of gold.
May their efforts inspire us to do good,
and make a difference, just as they would. Ameen

‘The struggle for peace, like the struggle for human rights and humanity, is not one in which, having reached the peak of the mountain, the final goal comes into view. Rather, it should be thought of as the work of generating an uninterrupted and unstoppable flow of commitment that connects and is passed on from one generation to the next.

‘Each of us, no matter how weak or ineffectual we may feel ourselves to be, must build deep within our hearts a stronghold for peace, one that will be capable of withstanding and in the end silencing the incessant calls to war. This is the only way humanity’s tragic predilection for violence can be reformed and its energies channelled in new directions.

‘We need to awaken a common consciousness of being all inhabitants of Earth. This consciousness is not to be found in some distant place. It will not be found on a computer screen. It lies in our hearts, in our ability to share the pain of our fellow human beings. It is the spirit that says ‘As long as you are suffering, whoever you are and whatever your suffering may be, I suffer also.’
Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist philosopher

We thank you God, for all those who … courageously go into areas of conflict and natural disaster, to give humanitarian aid, bind wounds, heal broken bodies, save lives. We give thanks for all NGOs and charities … who bring healing and hope to all those affected by war and disaster.
Susan Gale WPWP Committee member

Saint Luke the Evangelist and Physician … a stained-glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 10: 1-9 (NRSVA):

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you”.’

‘Study for the Calf of Saint Luke’ by Graham Sutherland in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral in 2018 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers: USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Helpline to women in need.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (18 October 2023, Saint Luke the Evangelist) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us give thanks for the life and works of Luke the Evangelist. May we be inspired by his Christian witness.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
by the grace of the Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Week of Prayer for World Peace began on Sunday 15 October 2023

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org