Monday, 14 February 2022

A curious Comerford link
with colonial administration
on the island of St Lucia

The island of St Lucia in the Caribbean … Henry Hegart Breen, who was Governor, was uncle of Isaac Breen Daly who married Henrietta Comerford

Patrick Comerford

My recent search for the Comerford mausoleum near Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, and houses associated with the Comerford family in Galway, unearthed an interesting, if not curious, family connection with British colonial administration in the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

Henrietta Emily Comerford (1837-1881) was the ninth and youngest Henry Comerford (1796-1861), JP, of Merchant’s Road, Galway, and Ballykeel House, Kilfenora, Co Clare, and his wife, who are buried in the Comerford mausoleum. Henrietta was named after her father when she was born in Galway on 8 May 1837 and baptised that day in Saint Nicholas Church, Galway.

Henrietta Comerford was twice married. She married her first husband, Isaac Breen Daly (1835-1871), in Dublin on 25 January 1858.

Isaac Breen Daly was a son of Michael Daly (1810-1901) and his wife Mary (née Breen). His father, Michael Daly, was living at Ballykeel House with the Comerford family in 1861. His mother, Mary Daly (née Breen) was a sister of Henry Hegart Breen (1805-1882), Governor of St Lucia.

Henry Hegart Breen, who was born in Kerry on 26 June 1805, claimed direct descent from the ancient Irish chiefs of Tyrone. Following the Battle of Kinsale and during the Plantation of Ulster, the Breen family were adherents of Hugh O’Neil, Earl of Tyrone, the Breens were dispossessed of their lands in Ulster during the reign of James I in 1607, and they were banished from there to Co Kerry.

On his mother’s side, Henry Hegart Breen was also related to the poet Thomas Moore, whose father, the son of a Kerry farmer, settled in Dublin in 1775.

Henry Hegart Breen was educated at grammar schools in Co Kerry, and at the age of 18 he was sent to the College of St Esprit, in Paris. During his five years there, he studied philosophy, theology and French literature.

Breen moved to the West Indies in 1829, and in 1833 he was appointed Secretary of the Courts of Justice in the island of St Lucia. Britain had taken control of St Lucia as a colony from the French in 1814, but the French language continued to be used for many years as the language of the courts. Slavery was abolished on St Lucia in 1836, and slaves were granted full freedom in 1838.

Breen was appointed Administrator of the Government of St Lucia in April 1857, in succession to Maurice Power from Skibbereen, Co Cork, who had been Lieutenant Governor since 1852.

Breen continued as the de factio Governor of St Lucia until October 1861. As administrator, he was present in Martinique in August 1859, at the inauguration of a statue to the Empress Josephine. Breen’s speech in French received special thanks from the Emperor Napoleon III.

Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, visited St Lucia officially in March 1861. Breen retired later that year and he died in the West Indies on 2 November 1882.

Meanwhile, Henry Breen’s nephew, Isaac Breen Daly, died in Salthill, Galway, 16 December 1871. Isaac and his wife Henrietta (Comerford) were the parents of eight children: Henry Joseph Daly (1858-1903), of Corrib Castle, Galway; Michael Joseph Daly (1860-1894), of Castleblakeney, Co Galway; Hyacinth John Daly (1861-1930), who died in South Africa; George William Daly (1861-1935); Charles Nicholas Daly (1862-1917); Mary ‘Minnie’ (1864-1956); Henrietta (1865-1948), who died in Los Angeles; and Margaret (born 1869).

Henrietta (Comerford) was still a young widow when she married her second husband, John Joseph Ireland, in Galway on 28 November 1872. At their wedding, he gave his age as 23 and he was living in Dominick Street; she gave her age as 30, she was living at Montpelier Terrace, and was described as ‘Lady.’

They were living at Bushy Park, Galway in 1875. He was 27 when he died the following at Forster House, the Blake-Forester family home in Forster Street, Galway, on 16 October 1876. She died at Forster House within five years on 20 April 1881, aged 43.

Henrietta and John were the parents of two daughters and a son: Henrietta (Henryeta) Josephine (1873-1960); and Elizabeth (1875-1934), known in the family as Ida (1875-1934), and John Francis Ireland (1876-1878), who was an infant when he died in Forster House, Galway, on 14 December 1878.

As for Henry Breen, he was Breen was the author of St Lucia, Historical, Statistical, and Descriptive (1844); The Diamond Rock and other Poems (1849); Modern English Literature: its Blemishes and Defects (1857); Warrawarra, the Carib Chief, a Tale of 1770 (2 vols, 1876); and some other works that appeared anonymously. He also contributed to many periodicals.

Forster House, on Forster Street, Galway … home to Henrietta Comerford who married Isaac Breen Daly and John Joseph Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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