20 May 2024

Some memories from
Harold’s Cross ten years
after my mother’s death

No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of the Quaker abolitionist and philanthropist Richard Allen (1803–1886), has been restored (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Like many journalists, I was always aware of ‘campaign journalism’. It was a complimentary label when it was applied to journalists with the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ Team, journalists like Paul Foot, John Pilger or Bob Fisk, or many campaign journalists with newspapers such as the Guardian, the Observer and The Irish Times.

There are differences between reporting, analysis, comment, opinion-writing, consciousness raising and campaigning journalism. But when does it spill over into or descend into propaganda and political manipulation?

I suppose I have engaged in a form of campaign journalism and blogging in my support for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum to their proper home in Athens.

In another way, I have been campaigning, I suppose, in writing about the deterioration of the former home of the Quaker abolitionist and philanthropist Richard Allen (1803-1886) in Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

I had been familiar with this house in my childhood – my mother even sent me ‘for messages’ as a child in the 1960s to Healy’s, the grocery shop that was once attached to the house that later became Westbank Orphanage or the Protestant Girls’ Orphanage.

I had written since 2013 about the sad neglect and decay of this constituent part of the architectural heritage of Harold’s Cross and Dublin 6. So, ten years later, when I visited Harold’s Cross briefly before Christmas, it was a personal pleasure to see the house had been restored carefully.

To my surprise, the heritage contractors PMac, the Harold’s Cross-based masonry, cleaning and maintenance business involved in the restoration work on behalf of Aspect Design, asked my permission to use some of my photographs on their website, illustrating the ‘before’ and ‘after’ state of this Georgian house.

I rarely agree to commercial or business pages using my photographs online. I figure than a business should pay a photographer to do their work, and I should not deprive professional photographers of potential commissions. However, in this case I was so impressed of the work that I immediately said yes. Ten years of ‘campaign blogging’ had borne its fruit.

I suggested that, in return, PMac should make a donation to an appropriate local charity. They willingly agreed, and quickly told me they are organising a coffee morning in the coming months in aid of the Hospice in Harold’s Cross.

There was an added emotional poignancy to this, because it is ten years ago today since my mother, died in the Hospice in Harold’s Cross, on 20 May 2014.

Ellen Comerford (née Murphy) was born in Millstreet, Co Cork, on 10 February 1919 and went to boarding school in Mountrath, Co Laois

Ellen Comerford (née Murphy) was 95 when she died in the Hospice in Harold’s Cross on 20 May 2014. She was born in Millstreet, Co Cork, on 10 February 1919 and went to boarding school in Mountrath, Co Laois, 20 minutes from Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where her Crowley uncles, Cornelius D Crowley (1879-1972) of Roscrea Castle and Jeremiah D Crowley (1883-1968) of Wallstown Castle, Castltownroche, had extensive business interests.

After a short time in Paris immediately before World War II, she became a civil servant in the Department of Education in Dublin. She married my father, Stephen Edward Comerford (1918-2004) in Blackrock, Co Dublin, on 8 September 1945, in the weeks immediately after World II. By then she was living in Booterstown, and her father was living in Australia.

At first, my parents lived in Bray, Co Wicklow, but they later lived in Dublin in Harold’s Cross and then, in later years, in Rathfarnham. I was the fourth of six children, born on Rathfarnham Road.

I understand how life was difficult for her. My eldest brother died on 18 December 1970 when he was only 24, and she was only 51. No mother recovers from the death of a child, no matter what age either of them is at the time.

My father died in Rathfarnham almost 20 years ago, on 27 December 2004, less than two weeks after his 86th birthday. My widowed mother survived him for almost ten years. I had not known her very well in my childhood or for much of my adult life. But I tried to get to know her better in those last 10 years, as she moved into sheltered housing first on Leeson Park and then in Rathgar.

We visited her first marriage home in Bray, her uncle’s former home at Finnstown House, Lucan, which she knew intimately when the Crowley family lived there, we occasionally had lunch together in Rathgar, Bray or Lucan, and at some stage I returned with her to Paris with a brother and a sister.

I don’t think we every properly resolved the difficulties remaining since my childhood, and I had left her home again in my teens. But, I think, today she might be pleased to know about this piece of restoration work in a part of Harold’s Cross she knew well from the 1950s to the 1970s, and to know how this has boosted the work of the Hospice in Harold’s Cross.

Ellen Comerford (née Murphy) died in the Hospice in Harold’s Cross on 20 May 2014

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