15 May 2020

A lockdown ‘virtual tour’
of a dozen Comerford and
Quemerford family homes

An artist’s impression by Struan Robertson of Ballybur Castle, the Comerford ancestral home near Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny

Patrick Comerford

The lockdown introduced as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic continues to grip most of Europe, and the latest discussions indicate there may be no travel from Ireland to other parts of Europe for the rest of 2020.

But I can still travel in my mind’s eye. And, so, in recent months I have been posting a number of ‘virtual tours,’ inviting you to join me in ‘virtual tours’ of churches, monasteries, synagogues, historic sites, and even pubs and restaurants across Europe.

This evening I invite you to join me in a ‘virtual tour’ with a genealogical theme, visiting a dozen or more ancestral homes of the Comberford family. Most of these are in the Lichfield and Tamworth areas, but some are a little further out in Staffordshire: one or two are in Warwickshire, and one is in Shropshire.

I hope to follow this evening’s ‘virtual tour’ later with a ‘virtual tour’ of ancestral homes of different branches of the Quemerford and Comerford families.

1, Quemerford House, Calne, Wiltshire:

Quemerford House, at the heart of Quemerford village on the edges of Calne in Wiltshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Comerford family in Ireland takes its name from the village of Quemerford, on the edges of Calne in north Wiltshire.

Although the Comerford family never lived at Quemerford House, this house is the main home in the village from which the family takes its name.

According to etymologists, the name is derived from the Old English Cynemaeres-ford, meaning the ford or river crossing at the royal (cyne) boundary (maere) or lake (mere). The 19th century Wiltshire historian and antiquarian, Canon John Edward Jackson, said the name had been written ‘fantastically’ as Quemerford as far back as the reign of Edward I, and pointed out that it had been written also as Comerford and Kemerford. The etymologist Ekwall notes the early variants of the name include Camerford (1204), Kemerford (1226-1228), Quemerford (1240-1245), Cameresford (1292) and Quemerforde (1294).

The village of Quemerford, a suburb of Calne in Wiltshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Philip de Quemerford, sometimes recorded as Philip of Cummerford, a lawyer from Calne, was living permanently in Co Kilkenny from the beginning of the 14th century, and was attorney to John de Earleye in 1302. The last mention of the Quemerford family in the Calne area of Wiltshire is on 17 March 1344.

But the spelling Quemerford continued to be used by the family into the 15th century, and sometimes even in the 16th and early 17th century. That spelling gave way to Comerford through continuing contacts with the Comberford family in Staffordshire, and the conflation of the two family trees by later genealogists.

2, Ballybur Castle, Co Kilkenny:

Balllybur Castle, Co Kilkenny … the 16th century ancestral home of the Comerford family (Patrick Comerford)

Ballybur Castle, near Cuffesgrange, halfway between Callan and Kilkenny, was the principal Comerford family home in Co Kilkenny for generation.

Richard de Quemerford (fl 1434-1457) held his lands from James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormond and 1st Earl of Wiltshire, in 1434, and was working for the Butlers in Waterford and Carlow.

He appears to have been the ancestor of the Ballybur branch of the family, and many other branches of the family. Ballybur Castle was built in that century, and Richard ‘Roe’ Comerford, who inherited Ballybur Castle ca1532.

The vaulted bedroom on the third floor of Ballybur Castle was once the private chapel of the Comerford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, Richard Comerford of Ballybur Castle has often been identified with Rochard Comberford of Comberford Hall and Bradley in Staffordshire, and a former bursar of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, giving rise to many confusions in the family tree.

Ballybur Castle remained the main Comerford family residence until it was confiscated from John Comerford during the Cromwellian confiscations in the 1650s. It was the home of a branch of the Mansergh family for generations, and now belongs to the Gray family, who have restored it and made it a popular wedding venue.

3, Danganmore Castle, Co Kilkenny:

The ruins of Danganmore Castle, once owned by the Comerford family, are incorporated into the Forrestal family home (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Danganmore Castle is another Comerford family castle in Co Kilkenny, associated with a branch of the Comerford family of Ballybur.

Richard ‘Boy’ Comerford (died 1622), younger son of Richard ‘Oge’ Comerford of Ballybur (died ca 1579/1580) and younger brother of Thomas Comerford of Ballybur, moved to Danganmore Castle by the early 1570s.

Later, Joseph Comerford, who bought a château in France in the early 18th century and with it the title of Marquis d’Anglure, claimed the head of the Comerford family held the ‘Palatine’ title of Baron of Danganmore. But there never was such a title or peerage.

4, Castleinch, Co Kilkenny:

Desart Court … built by the Cuffe family on the site of Castleinch, owned for generations by the Comerford family

The Quemerford or Comerford family was involved in the civic, mercantile, social, political and ecclesiastical life of the City of Waterford from the early decades of the 15th century. The branch of the Comerford family connected with Inchiholohan for up to 170 years – from the first half of the 16th century until the end of the 17th century – was closely related to the Waterford branch of the family.

This is illustrated by the predominance of a small number of personal names such as Foulk, Garret (Gerald) and George, and the family’s property, commercial and political interests in both New Ross and Waterford, which then competed with New Ross for the place as Kilkenny’s commercial port.

The crossroads at Castleinch, Co Kilkenny. Today there are no surviving remains of the Comerford castle at Inchiholohan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The castle and lands of Inchihologhan passed to Joseph Cuffe and John Butler in dower, and it was stated that the ‘Castle, Manor and lands’ of Inchyolaghan were to be known as Castleinch. Later, the property was called Cuffe’s Desart, and a new residence, Desart Court, was built a few miles from the castle in 1733.

Healy says: ‘Though there was a tradition to the effect that the Comerfords regained at least partial possession at the restoration, I have not been able to discover any document which would place its accuracy beyond doubt.’

5, Château d’Anglure, France:

Château d’Anglure … it gave Joseph Comerford an estate and a French title

Joseph Comerford is one of the most enigmatic members of the family. His origins and place in the family tree have been obscured by his own obfuscation: the family pedigree he registered in Dublin was a self-serving exercise in vanity, aimed at asserting his claim to nobility that would underpin the French aristocratic title he acquired when he bought a château and petit domain in Champagne. The plaques he erected in the Comerford chapel in Saint Mary’s Church, Callan, Co Kilkenny, and the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, were proud but vain efforts to link the Comerford family in Co Kilkenny with the Comberford family of Comberford Hall in the Lichfield and Tamworth area of Staffordshire.

Although Joseph Comerford claimed on these monuments that his family had been brought low by the ravages of civil wars in Ireland and in England, he appears to have remained in Ireland for some years after the defeat of the Jacobites in the 1690s, without any obvious social, political or financial disadvantage. While he eagerly craved acceptance in French aristocratic circles, the title he acquired has never continued in use in the Comerford family.

Joseph Comerford, the eldest son of Edward Comerford of Clonmel, was sworn a freeman of the City of Waterford in 1686 and later a captain in the Earl of Tyrone’s regiment of foot, a Waterford regiment (despite its name) in the army of James II.

Despite the Jacobite defeat, Joseph Comerford was still living in Ireland in 1692, but later moved to France. As Joseph de Comerford of Clonmel, he received letters of naturalisation in France in January 1711. In exile, he was made a Chevalier of St Louis, bought the Anglure estate on the banks of the River Aule in Champagne, including the Château d’Anglure, and claimed the title of Marquis d’Anglure. Anglure is about 130 km east of Paris and about 30 km north of Troyes, and is in the Champagne-Ardenne area.

Joseph Comerford may be the Baron d’Enguemore who appears in Reitstrap’s Armorial, which may be a misspelling of the soi-disant title of Baron of Danganmore.

He registered a fanciful family pedigree at the Ulster Office of Arms in Dublin Castle in 1724, and soon after erected the monuments in Saint Mary’s Church, Callan the Comberford Chapel in Tamworth, Staffordshire. He died in France in 1729 and was buried in the chapel at the Château d’Anglure not under the title of Marquis d’Anglure but as Baron d’Anglure et Dangermore.

The Comerford family sold the château in the 1750s, and is branch of the Comerford family survived in France until the death of Captain Joseph-Alexandre-Antoine Comerford (1757-1813), a French veteran of the American War of Independence who was twice married but had no children. Although the possibility exists, it is highly unlikely that any other male descendant of the Comerford family is going to come forward to claim the secondary title of ‘Baron d’Anglure’ or the lesser though more accessible designation of ‘d’Anglure’ after the family name.

6, Coolgreany House, near Castlewarren, Co Kilkenny:

Coolgreany House, near Castlewarren, Co Kilkenny, built in 1653, and said to have been the home of Richard Comerford and his son William Comerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When John Comerford lost Ballybur Castle during the Cromwellian confiscations in the mid-17th century, the family was offered land near Bunratty, Co Clare, during the transplantations to Connaught.

In the 1660s, following the Caroline Restoration, John Comerford appealed to the Duke of Ormond, his wife’s cousin, for the recovery of Ballybur Castle. His appeal appears to have fallen on deaf ears, and the family moved to north Co Kilkenny.

John Comerford’s grandson, Richard Comerford, is said to be the first member of the family to live at Coolgreany House, near Castlewarren, Co Kilkenny.

The house was built in 1653, and the farm still remains in the Comerford family.

7, The Butterslip, Kilkenny:

   The Butterslip, Kilkenny … William Comerford lived here after his son James Comerford married Anne Langton in 1754 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

William Comerford (ca1692-post 1765) was the eldest son of Richard Comerford who lived at Coolgreany House in the second half of the 17th century.

William Comerford later moved into the Butterslip, the main Langton family home in Kilkenny City, after his son James Comerford married Anne Langton of the Butterslip in 1754.

8, The Mall House, Bunclody, Co Wexford:

The Mall House, Bunclody, home of the Comerford family for generations in Newtownbarry … until recently Bunclody Post Office (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, one line of the Comerford family of Ballybur moved from Kilkenny to the area around Newtownbarry (Bunclody), in north Co Wexford.

The ancestor of the main line of this branch of the family was Edmond Comerford (ca 1722-1788), a younger son of William Comerford who had moved into the Butterslip.

The Comerford house in Newtownbarry was known as the Mall House. This house later passed by marriage to the Lawler family, and Dr William Comerford Lawler was a well-known doctor in Newtownbarry. This house later became the Post Office in Bunclody.

9, No 11 Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin:

No 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh … James Comerford died here in 1902, Stephen Comerford continued to live here afterwards, and Anne (Cullen) Comerford died here on 16 November 1903 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

My great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), moved from Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, in the 1850s. He lived in different houses in the Clanbrassil Street area of Dublin, and finally moved to No 11 Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh.

He was living there at the time of the 1901 census, when he described himself as a ‘civil servant, retired.’ He had worked most of his life as a stuccodore and architect, and in his last working days he was employed by the Board of Works, now the Office of Public Works.

He died in this house in Ranelagh, where my grandfather was living, on 14 December 1902. Stephen Comerford continued to live here afterwards, and his first wife, Anne (Cullen) Comerford, died here on 16 November 1903.

10, 2 Old Mountpleasant, Dublin:

No 2 Old Mountpleasant, Ranelagh … Stephen Comerford lived here in the first two decades of the 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No 2 Old Mountpleasant, Ranelagh: My grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921) was born 150 years ago at 7 Redmond’s Hill on 28 December 1867. He lived at a number of houses in the Ranelagh and Rathmines area, including No 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue (1900-1905), and No 2 Old Mountpleasant (ca 1909-ca1913).

Many of his children were born in this house, which is now incorporated in ‘The Hill,’ a well-known pub in Ranelagh. Later, he lived at No 7 Swanville Place, Rathmines, from 1913 until his death in 1921.

11, Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow:

Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, home to generations of the Rathdrum branch of the Comerford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, was the home of the branch of the Comerford family who founded Rathdrum Mill, beside Rathdrum Bridge, in the mid-19th century. Rathdrum Mill finally closed in 1935.

Ardavon House occupied a prominent site at the northern end of the town, facing the junction of the Main Street with the roads to Lowtown and to Clara, Laragh and Glendalough; at the south end of the Main Street, in a similar position, is the Church of Ireland Parish Church of Saint Saviour’s. Between the two, there is a Comerford shop on the Main Street.

James Charles Comerford (1842-1907) of Ardavon House and Rathdrum Mill was a friend and political ally of his neighbour, Charles Stewart Parnell. His wife, Eva Mary Esmonde (1860-1949), was a daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Esmonde VC, from Gorey, Co Wexford, and a three times tennis champion of Ireland. Prominent members of this family in recent times include the Republican activist, author and journalist Maire Comerford and her nephew, the film-maker Joe Comerford.

The Comerford family continued to live at Ardavon House until 1958 when it was acquired by the Wicklow County Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and it was a school until 1991. Ardavon House was badly destroyed in a fire in 1997. Despite local authority undertakings to rebuild it, the house stands derelict today, a sad reminder of former days.

12, Comerford House, Galway:

Comerford House … looking a little neglected beside Spanish Arch in Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

William James Valentine (1903-1970s), a solicitor in Tuam and Galway, was born in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, and believed his branch of the Comerford family was descended from the Comerford family of Inchiholohan or Castleinch, Co Kilkenny. He was also a well-known local historian in Co Galway. He moved to Comerford House, beside the Spanish Arch, Galway, in the 1950s, but when he retired in the 1970s he moved to Dublin, where he died.

The house was built ca 1800 as a private house. One of its best known residents was Clare Consuelo Sheridan (1885-1970), the sculptor, journalist and writer, lived there in 1948-1954. She was a first cousin of Sir Winston Churchill and of Sir Shane Leslie. She is said to have had romantic interludes with Trotsky, Mussolini, Charlie Chaplin and even Kemal Ataurk. She used the Archway Room in Comerford House as a private chapel. During the 1940s or 1950s she obtained the fine portico now at Comerford House from Ardfry House in Renville, Ornamore.

Comerford House was donated by the Comerford family to the city council for community purposes and was the original home of the Galway City Museum from 1976. A new museum opened in 2006 on a site behind Comerford House.

Comerford House was donated to the city council by the Comerford family to be used for community purposes. However, the Tourist Board and Galway City Council have announced plans (2020) to demolish Comerford House and replace it with a viewing tower.

Duras House … bought by Henry Comerford in the 1850s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Other branches of the Comerford family also acquired interesting houses in the Galway area. In the 1850s, in the immediate aftermath of the Famine, Henry Comerford of Galway bought 4,440 acres of land in Co Galway, including 2,700 acres from Sir William Gregory at Kinvara, the de Basterot estate at Duras, and portion of the estates owned by J. Lambert and J. Browne.

Duras House, six km from Kinvara and 29 km from Galway City, was built by the French family in the 18th century, and passed to the de Bastrot family through marriage.

Ballykeel House, or Ballykeale House, near Kilfenora, Co Clare … became the property of Henry Comerford of Galway in 1839

Henry Comerford of Ballykeale House, Co Clare, and Merchants’ Road, Galway, died on 6 September 1861 at Ballykeale House. His brother, Isaac Comerford of Merchants’ Road, Galway, was his executor. Lane writes that his property passed to his sons-in-law, Captain Francis Blake Forster. The Return of Proprietors, published in 1876, records the representatives of Henry Comerford holding over 2,000 acres in Co Galway.

In 1846, Henry Comerford’s oldest daughter, Mary Josephine Comerford, married Captain Francis Blake Forster, JP, of Forster Park, near Galway, and Hermitage, Kinvara, Co Galway. Their son, Charles French Blake-Forster (1851-1874), High Sheriff of Galway in 1874, was the author of The Irish Chieftains (Dublin, 1872), and had a particular interest in the genealogy of the Comerford family.

Gardenhill House, Castleconnell, Co Limerick … Owen James Comerford (1869-1945) died here on 15 June 1945 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some recent ‘virtual tours’:

More than a dozen Comberford family homes;

A dozen Wren churches in London;

Ten former Wren churches in London;

More than a dozen churches in Lichfield;

More than a dozen pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen former pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen churches in Rethymnon;

A dozen restaurants in Rethymnon;

A dozen churches in other parts of Crete;

A dozen monasteries in Crete;

A dozen sites on Mount Athos;

A dozen historic sites in Athens;

A dozen historic sites in Thessaloniki;

A dozen churches in Thessaloniki;

A dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.

A dozen churches in Cambridge;

A dozen college chapels in Cambridge;

A dozen Irish islands;

A dozen churches in Corfu;

A dozen churches in Venice.

A dozen churches in Rome.

A dozen churches in Bologna;

A dozen churches in Tuscany.

With Tommy and Rebecca Comerford outside Comerford’s, one of the best known pubs in Doonbeg, Co Clare

Praying in Easter with USPG:
34, Friday 15 May 2020

The USPG Prayer Diary this week is focussing on the work of the Church of Bangladesh

Patrick Comerford

Our churches remain closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I am continuing to use the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections throughout this Season of Easter.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

Throughout this week (10 to 16 May 2020), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on Climate Justice and the Church of Bangladesh. This focus was introduced in the Prayer Diary on Sunday morning by Rebecca Boardman of USPG.

Friday 15 May 2020 (International Day of Families):

Thank you Lord for the gift of families.

The Readings: Acts 15: 22-31; Psalm 57: 8-12; John 15: 12-17.

The Collect of the Day (Easter V):

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow