14 April 2014

A one-name study that disentangles myths
about the origins of the Comerford family

In Comberford – but had I found the families origins?

Patrick Comerford

Since November 2007 I have been maintaining a blog/website as part of my Comerford one-name study, looking at the history of the Comerford family in Ireland, especially in Co Kilkenny, Co Wexford and Dublin, and the history of the Quemerford family in Wiltshire and the Comberford family in Staffordshire.

The Comerfords in south-east Ireland can delight in the discovery and enjoy the diversity found in the family over many centuries. Because of the lasting tradition that the Comerfords of Ireland were descended from the Comberford family from Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire, I have spent much unravelling the family trees of the Comerford, Quemerford and Comberford family, and devoted web space their homes, houses and heraldry.

It is a work in progress that began in 1969-1970. It was inspired by the love of family history handed on to me by two aunts who lived in my grandparents’ home, and with it handed on the legend that we were descended from the Comberfords of Staffordshire. I was still in my teens when I started to trace these stories and sought the family origins between Lichfield and Tamworth.

According to the 18th century genealogist, Sir William Betham, the Comerford family came from Comberford in Staffordshire to Ireland in 1189. This account gained wide currency in the 18th and 19th century, and was accepted by the Kilkenny historians William Healy and John G.A. Prim. Edward MacLysaght perpetuated this misunderstanding that the Comerfords of Kilkenny originated in Staffordshire.

In Comberford – but had I found the families origins?

The Comberford family, which took its name from the village of the same name, dominated the political life of Tamworth for a brief time, and gave its name to the Comberford Chapel, where some of the most prominent family members were buried, in Saint Editha’s, the town’s parish church. A plaque erected in the Comberford Chapel in 1725 claims the Comerfords of Ireland were a branch of the same family, and a similar claim is made through the use of the Comberford coat-of-arms by the Comerfords of Co Kilkenny and Waterford from the early 17th century.

However, these claims were first questioned by the Victorian genealogist and historian GD Burtchaell, who pointed out: “The family of Comerford is said to have come from Cumberford in Staffordshire, but the spelling Quemerford was used consistently by the family in Ireland until at least the 16th century, indicating the sources for the family’s origins must be sought elsewhere.” In initialled, pencilled notes on the margins of one of the pedigrees signed by Betham, Burtchaell wrote: “no such man,” “no such marriage,” and, more tellingly, “All this is pure and unadulterated rubbish... G.D.B.”

In Quemerford – but had the family’s origins been forgotten?

In Quemerford – but had the family’s origins been forgotten?

In my search for Quemerford in the 1970s, I found the origins of the Comerford family of south-east Ireland are not in Staffordshire but can be traced to the village of Quemerford, now part of the small town of Calne in Wiltshire.

In my search, I came across a collection of manuscripts kept at Home House, Much Marcle, Herefordshire, at the beginning of the 20th century and now in the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office in, Chippenham. This collection shows that the first member of the family using the name of Quemerford village was Bartholomew de Quemerford, ca 1230-1240. Nicholas de Quemerford in 1344 was the last member of the family in Quemerford.

Over a century ago, the Calne historian, AEW Marsh, identified a notable movement of people from Calne to Ireland at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. William de Dene, Seneschal of Ossory, Sheriff of Wexford and Justiciar of Ireland, died in 1261, probably from wounds at the Battle of Callan. His widow, Roesia de Longespee, married William de Calne, who at times nominated lawyers from Calne to look after his interests in Ireland while he and his wife were in England. Marsh says these lawyers, including Philip of Cummerford (sic) and others, show “there was then quite a little colony of people from Calne and the neighbourhood settled in Ireland.”

By the early 14th century, Philip of Cummerford or Philip de Quemerford and his family were living permanently in Co Kilkenny, and a continuous presence of the Quemerford or Comerford family can be traced ever since through the Ormond deeds and papers, first in Co Kilkenny and later in the neighbouring counties.

The name was modernised from the late 16th and early centuries as Comerford, and the story of kinship with the Comberford family of Staffordshire soon developed to the point of being accepted, as though the Comerfords of Ireland and the Comberfords of Staffordshire had adopted each other as family and kin with mutual bonds of affection.

Perpetuating the myth – my grandfather's small publication, shortly before his death

Perpetuating the myth – my grandfather's small publication, shortly before his death

My great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), perpetuated these myths when he visited Comberford, Tamworth, Wednesbury and Lichfield in August 1900 or 1901, describing himself as “a descendant” of the Comberford family. In the Comberford Chapel in Tamworth, he took detailed notes of the Comberford plaque erected in 1725; at Comberford Hall, he visited the Peel family.

He collected his findings in a small, seven-page pamphlet, that was privately published in a small print run on 26 November 1902, and bound with it photographs of the Moat House and Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth. Shortly afterwards, he added a bookplate similar to that of James Comerford, the London book collector and antiquarian, and additional handwritten notes.

The surviving copy of this publication is in Tamworth Library, along with a pencilled page of notes recording the details of his visit that August day. The binding of this slim volume may have been a final tribute by his family to James Comerford, who died 18 days later in Dublin, on 14 December 1902.

All these ties of affection amount to bonds of kinship, and they make it natural to include the Comerford, Quemerford and Comberford families in one, single, one-name study.

The one-name study by the Revd Canon Professor Patrick Comerford can be found at: http://comerfordfamily.blogspot.ie/

Fíona’s note:

Now that Patrick has shown us the way, I look forward to getting more offers! I have contributions from Joss Le Gall and Pádraic to hand already, and promises of material from Kate Tammemagi and Michael Egan, but there is plenty of space available in future issues.

This essay and these photographs are published in the April 2014 edition of the Guild of One-Name Studies Newsletter, Irish region (pp 1-5), edited by Fiona Tipple

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