07 February 2020

Cork’s Roman Catholic
cathedral has adjusted to
change over 200 years

The ‘North Cathedral’ at the top of Shandon Street, Cork … the Roman Catholic cathedral of the Diocese of Cork and Ross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint Anne , also known as Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the North Cathedral or the North Chapel, is the Roman Catholic cathedral of the Diocese of Cork and Ross.

The cathedral is at the top of Shandon Street and close to Saint Anne’s, the Church of Ireland parish church known for its bells.

The cathedral parish includes the areas of Blarney Street, Shandon and parts of Blackpool, and the baptismal records date from 1731.

A monument in the cathedral commemorating Bishop Francis Moylan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The cathedral was built when Francis Moylan was Bishop of Cork and Ross at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. Building work began in 1799 on the site of a former church built in the 1730s. The cathedral was dedicated on 22 August 1808 by Archbishop Thomas Bray of Cashel. In his sermon, the coadjutor bishop, Florence McCarthy, spoke of the necessity of social worship, and referred to reason, scripture, and tradition.

Bishop McCarthy died of typhoid in 1810, contracted while he was visiting a sick parishioner.

The early cathedral was extensively damaged by fire in act of arson in 1820, and only the shell of the building remained.

Inside the cathedral, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

John Murphy, Bishop of Cork (1815-1847), entrusted the refurbishment to the architect George Richard Pain (1793-1838), who also designed Christ Church, Saint Patrick’s Church and Holy Trinity Church, Cork.

George Richard Pain and his elder brother James Pain (1779-1877), who was instrumental in introducing the Gothic Revival to Limerick and the surrounding counties, were both pupils of the great Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835).

Pain extended the cathedral by enlarging the sanctuary and creating a chancel arch, and the cathedral reopened in 1828. The cathedral is designed in early Neo-Gothic Revivalist style, and combines sandstone with limestone dressings.

Inside the cathedral, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Bishop Murphy also commissioned John Hogan, then an apprentice sculptor, to execute the reredos behind the High Altar. It included 27 statues, carved in pine, of apostles and saints. These are now positioned in decorative plasterwork over the nave.

The West Tower was designed by Sir John Benson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The West Tower, over the main door, was the vision of by Canon Daniel Foley in the 1860s and was designed by Sir John Benson, who also designed the Great West Door.

The architect Sir John Benson (1812-1874) was born in Collooney, Co Sligo. At the age of 21, he was sent by Edward Joshua Cooper of Markree Castle, to ‘a technical school in Dublin,’ presumably the Royal Dublin Society's School of Architectural Drawing. His early work included the restoration of Markree Castle, Collooney.

Benson worked as Cork county surveyor and was involved in the relief work during the famine in 1847. In 1848 he was appointed of consulting engineer to the Cork Harbour Board and improved the navigation of the river. He was the architect for the 1852 Irish Industrial Exhibition and won the competition to design the Exhibition Building for the Great Industrial Exhibition (1853) in Dublin. He was knighted for his work at the 1853 exhibition.

He was engineer and architect for the Cork and Macroom Direct Railway and the Rathkeale and Newcastle Railway. He also supervised the refurbishment of the Theatre Royal, Cork in the 1860s.

The tower of Saint Anne’s, Shandon, seen from the west door of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Benson’s other works in Cork include the Firkin Crane building (1855), a unique rotunda that formed part of the original Butter Exchange and now houses the Butter Museum; the Athenaeum or Opera House (1855); and Saint Patrick's Bridge (1861).

Benson’s tower at the cathedral, added in 1869, is 152 ft high, 10 ft higher than the steeple of nearby Saint Anne’s Church, Shandon.

Gothic detail inside the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The original altar was fashioned in wood by Italian craftsmen in Lisbon. The bells were cast in 1870 by John Murphy of Dublin, and were originally hung for change-ringing. However, they are now considered ‘unringable.’

Ideas and plans for extending and renovating the cathedral were discussed as far back as 1931 in an annual blotter book published by the cathedral parish office while Daniel Cohalan was bishop.

By the 1960s, Bishop Cornelius Lucey wanted to fulfil the dream of Bishop Francis Moylan’s dream to complete the cathedral.

The architects employed were Boyd Barrett and Associates were commissioned as architects, the sanctuary was extended, a sanctuary tower added, and the internal layout reorganised.

These works in 1964-1968 included a 70 ft extension to the cathedral, a new Sanctuary Tower (80 ft) was built to compliment the West Tower, and the sanctuary was rearranged.

Richard Hurley’s vision drew the sanctuary into the body of the cathedral and gathers the people around three sides of the altar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

However, despite this work, the Neo-Gothic originals and the later extensions lacked harmony until the reordering and renovation carried out in 1994-1996. Through the vision of the architect Richard Hurley, the tower and sanctuary were renovated and refurbished, the high altar, altar rails and side altars were removed, and the Sanctuary was drawn into the body of the cathedral so that it gathers the people around three sides of the altar.

The entire fabric of the building was repaired and restored, the roof was re-slated, the Gothic ceiling was repaired, and the external stonework was repointed. The final public function of the late Bishop Michael Murphy was to rededicate the cathedral on Saint Michael’s Day, 29 September 1996; he died in October 1996.

The cathedral celebrated its bicentenary in September 2008. A visitor centre was established underneath the sanctuary of the cathedral in 2017, with tours of the Cork Folklore Project’s exhibition and work.

The baptismal font at the west door of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In search of Comerford
family links between
Cork and Lisbon

Shandon Street, Cork, once known as Mallow Street … Peter Comerford’s business here collapsed 250 years ago after a fire and robbery in 1770 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Cork since yesterday, staying overnight in the WatersEdge Hotel in Cobh. This visit has given me an opportunity for first-time visits to the Roman Catholic Cathedrals in both Cork and Cobh, some more churches, and the sites of three or four former synagogues in Cork City.

For a long time, I have been keeping an up-to-date file on my Comerford Genealogy blog a page one branch of the Comerford family in Cork, who were wine and grain merchants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

This branch of the family came from Wexford originally, and they had many interesting family connections, including marriages with members of the Hennessy family of Cognac fame, and the Comerford Casey family and Comerford Hawkins, whose descendants included a Vicar of Saint Bride’s Church on Fleet Street, London, and Anthony Hope Hawkins, author of the swashbuckling novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.

The development of the Butter Market in Cork in the 18th century led to the foundation of the Committee of Butter Merchants, and this growing trade resulted in Mallow Lane being developed as Shandon Street and becoming an important international trading centre and a focal point in the city.

However, there was a visible diversity in standards of living in the area, with wealthy retailers living directly on the street, and many tenement halls on the numerous adjoining streets.

I recently came across a 250-year-old newspaper report from 30 July 1770, that reported how an accidental fire broke out the previous morning out in the bake-house and stores of Peter Comerford of Mallow Lane. His premises ‘were consumed, together with a large quantity of wheat and flour.’

The report continues sadly: ‘To aggravate the misfortune of this unhappy family, (whose loss barely by this fire is £250), the house was on Friday night broke open and robbed of plate and other articles. By this misfortune a family in decency and credit, is in three days time reduced to very indigent circumstances.’

The Buuter Market near Shandon Church in Cork … its development in the 18th century and a growing trade resulted in Mallow Lane being developed as Shandon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Then, an exchange of correspondence over the past few days with Rachel Pereira made me wonder whether this was the same Peter Comerford, an Anglican, who ended up in Lisbon within a few years, living in the Portuguese capital with his wife Winifred and their two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

Together, Rachel and I have drafted a family tree, built on her researches in parish records in Lisbon. They show how these two Cork-born Comerford daughters were baptised into the Roman Catholic church as adults in 1776 – at the time, there was no ecumenical recognition of baptisms – and how they married into prosperous Italian families that had moved to Lisbon around the same time.

Their descendants moved across Europe, and some moved to Brazil and on to the United States. It could be exciting to complete the family tree for this family, which is beginning to look something like this:

Peter Comerford of Cork and Winifred Dixon, known in Lisbon as Bonefacia or Bonifacia Dixan (Dixon or Dickson) were the parents of:

1, Maria Comerford, baptised as an adult on 26 May 1776, in the Parish Church of Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Lisbon. She married Pedro António Barata, on 29 October 1778. He was the son of Marco Antonio Barata and Anna Christina Barata, and was baptised in the parish Church of Santa Euzebio in Turin, Italy. Later, he was one of only three makers of fans in Lisbon, and one of the official fan makers of the Queen of Portugal.

2, Isabel Comerford (1759-1862), born Cork 1759, baptised as an adult on 26 May 1776, in the Parish Church of Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Lisbon, aged 17, of whom next.

The first named daughter:

Isabel Comerford or Comerfort married Giuseppe (Jose) Camillo Filippo Midozzi (1748- ), later Midosi, on 29 October 1778 in Sao Paulo Parish Church, Lisbon. Giusepe was born in Rome on 15 October 1748, the son of Giovanni Batista (Joao) Midozzi and Maria Madalena Bianxardi, and he was baptised in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Although some of their children continued to live in Portugal, Isabel and Giuseppe (Jose) later moved to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and died there. Isabel died in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, in 1862.

They were the parents of 10 children, including:

1, Maria, born in Lisbon on 1 January 1780 and was baptized in the Church of Loreto 1793. She married João Rodolfo Lindt.
2, José Midosi (1783-1856), born in Lisbon 20 March 1783, baptised 4 May in the Church of Loreto, Lisbon. He married Ana Cândida de Ataíde Lobo (1784-1833), daughter of Marcello Thomaz d’Athaide Lobo and Anna Joaquina Rosa Voluntaria Valerosa or Valerana on 9 February 1804, in the Church of Our Lady of the Martyrs, Lisbon. They were the parents of:
1a, Luis Frederico Midosi.
2a, Luísa Cândida Midosi (1808-1892), born Lisbon 17 May 1808; she was married twice: 1, João Batista da Silva Leitão de Almeida Garrett (1799-1854) of Lisbon; and 2, Alexandre Désiré Létrillard. She died at Rue de l’Arc de Triomphe 21, Ternes, Paris, 20 May 1892, aged 84.
3, Pedro Maria Midosi, born ca 25 February 1788, in Lisbon, married 1, Maria Hilária de Almeida Pinto Pereira Forjaz, in 1835; married 2, Maria da Conceição dos Santos, in 1861.
4, Guilherme Midosi.
5, Jorge Midosi.
6, Carlota Maria Midosi.
7, João Midosi.
8, Luisa Augusta, married Pedro Joyce.

The parish records in Lisbon note that Peter and Winfred Comerford, as Pedro Commefort and Winefreda Bonifacia Dixon, were both Protestants from Cork. Either Peter and Winifred or their daughters were godparents at the baptisms of Nuno da Silva Telles, the Count of Aveiras and of the Countess of Ribeira Grande.

The next step is to identify which of the Peter Comerfords in Cork this Peter Comerford is and to identify his wife Winifred. I have yet to track down their marriage in Cork, and the original baptisms and Mary and Elizabeth in the Church of Ireland.

So, another branch on the very large and spreading family tree brings forth new shoots.

Looking across Lisbon from the ramparts of the Castle of São Jorge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)