30 June 2024

Ignacio Comonfort,
President of Mexico,
descended from the
Comerfords of Callan

President Ignacio Comonfort (1812-1863), President of Mexico in 1855-1858 … he was a grandson of Joseph Comerford, born in Callan, Co Kilkenny

Patrick Comerford

President Ignacio Comonfort (1812-1863) was the President of Mexico briefly in 1855-1858. He is seen as a revolutionary and a liberal who sought to introduce major constitutional and political reforms in Mexico, and he challenged the influence and power of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexican life.

However, his search for a political compromise with conservative elements led to his downfall and exile. After his return to Mexico, he was killed in a skirmish in 1863. He was a patriotic and dedicated man, who has given his name to the city where he was buried. But he has also been described as ‘one of the more tragic and unhappy figures of Mexican history.’

His name is intriguing, for it certainly does not sound Spanish, and many Comerford family members have long speculated that his name derived from Comerford. However, this long continued to be mere speculation – perhaps a genealogist’s conjecture or even a ‘good hunch’.

But I remained persistent in my pursuit, and I was keen to either prove or disprove once and for all that this key figure in the history of post-colonial Mexico was a member of the Comerford. Now, in recent weeks, trawls through Mexican genealogical sites and records and biographies, mainly in Spanish, have confirmed this speculation and prove that that Ignacio Comonfort was, in fact, the grandson of Joseph Comerford, who was born in Callan, Co Kilkenny, in the early decades of the 18th century.

Callan, Co Kilkenny … Ignacio Comonfort was descended from the Comerfords of Callan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

President Ignacio Comonfort was born José Ignacio Gregorio Comonfort de los Ríos on 12 March 1812 in Amozoc, Puebla de los Ángeles, now Puebla de Zaragoza, then the second largest city in the Spanish Colony of New Spain or colonial Mexico.

His father, Mariano José Anselmo de la Santísima Trinidad Comonfort Carricarte, was born in Puebla in 1771. His grandfather, Joseph Comerford, was born in Callan, Co Kilkenny, and emigrated to Mexico, where the surname first became Comoforte but later morphed into Comonfort in an attempt at Hispanicisation. (In a similar way, he name O’Brien later on, became the Spanish Obregón.)

The name Comonfort continued for another few generations through the former President’s grandchildren.

Ignacio Comonfort’s parents were Lieutenant-Colonel Mariano José Anselmo de la Santísima Trinidad Comonfort Carricarte and Maria Guadalupe de los Rios. The name José recalled the future president’s Comerford grandfather, Joseph Comerford. But the name José had been given earlier to another, older child who died in infancy, and as he grew up he was known as Ignacio.

At the age of 14, he began studying at the Carolino College, a Jesuit-run school in Puebla, and went on study law in Puebla. However, his father’s death impoverished the family; he abandoned his law career and enlisted in the army.

Meanwhile, after the collapse of Spanish colonial rule and the Mexican War of Independence, Mexico was eventually proclaimed a federal republic on 4 October 1824, as the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) with a new constitution.

Ignacio Comonfort was 20 in 1832 when he took part in the liberal revolt that overthrew President Anastasio Bustamante and he fought action at San Agustin del Palmar and Puebla. During the subsequent siege of Mexico City, he was already a captain of the cavalry and fought at Tacubaya, Casas Blancas, Zumpango, San Lorenzo and Posadas.

When Bustamante was overthrown and the Zavaleta Accords put an end to the revolution, Comonfort became the military commander of Izúcar de Matamoros. He was elected to the presidency of the third ayuntamiento in the capital and became prefect of western State of Mexico.

Shortly after the United States annexed Texas in 1845, the two nations sent troops to their shared border. The US declared war on Mexico in 1846 and invaded Mexico in 1847. Comonfort took part in the defence of Mexico City and the Battle of Churubusco on 20 August 1847. He became assistant to the commander-in-chief, and after the US army took the capital he was a member of the congress that met at Querétaro. He was elected a senator the following year (1848).

Comonfort’s liberal sympathies, military expertise and presence in the south gave him a key role in the Ayutla Revolution, unifying liberal opposition to Antonio López de Santa Anna and his conservative government in 1854. During the revolution, Comonfort was sent on an important mission abroad to gain war materiel. When he was in charge of the fortress of Acapulco, he resisted a siege by Santa Anna.

Santa Anna resigned in August 1855, but Comonfort refused to recognise his successor Martin Carrera. He entered Guadalajara on 22 August 1855 and demanded the recognition of Juan Álvarez, a veteran insurgent and prominent liberal, as the leader of the revolution.

Ignacio Comonfort became the interim President of the United Mexican States in December 1855, and remained in office until January 1858

Álvarez became President and named Comonfort as Minister of War in his new cabinet. When Álvarez stepped down after only a few months, Comonfort became the interim President of the United Mexican States in December 1855, and remained in office until January 1858.

During those two years, Comonfort began an ambitious liberal project to give the state a secular character and to encourage economic development. He was the leader of the moderate Liberal group, and his government introduced reforms in education, commerce and administration, along with the Juárez Law, aimed at separating church and state and ending ecclesiastical courts.

A new constitutional was introduced in February 1857 with new guarantees that included freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of association or assembly. The constitution was opposed by conservatives, who rejected its provisions controlling the economic power and privileged status of the Catholic Church. The Lerdo law stripped the Church of its property and forced the breakup of communal land holdings of indigenous communities, enabling them to resist integration economically and culturally.

The controversy escalated when the government demanded all civil servants took an oath to uphold the new constitution. Catholic public servants were faced with a choice between keeping their jobs or being excommunicated.

In fact, Comonfort considered the anticlerical provisions too radical, and he also objected to the deliberate weakening of the power of the executive branch of government by empowering the legislative branch. He had been dealing with revolts since the beginning of his administration and the new constitution left the president powerless to act.

Hoping to find a compromise with the conservatives and other opponents of the constitution, Comonfort joined the Plan of Tacubaya proclaimed by General Félix María Zuloaga, nullifying the constitution in December 1857.

Comonfort ignored the new constitutional order that he himself had sworn to months before, Congress was dissolved and he remained as president. But he was abandoned by his liberal allies. He backed out of the plan, resigned as President in January 1858, and was succeeded by the president of the Supreme Court, Benito Juárez.

Comonfort left Mexico City on 22 January and headed for the liberal-controlled state of Vera Cruz. On 7 February, he and his family left for Europe on the steamer Tennessee, going into exile as the bloody Reform War broke out.

He was living in Texas in 1861 when he made a risky and dangerous crossing of the Rio Grande and returned to Mexico. He lived with his daughters in Monterey and at first the government ordered his arrest but then accepted his services when the French invaded Mexico.

France invaded Mexico in 1862 on the pretext of collecting debts the Juárez government had defaulted on. In reality, the French plan was to install a ruler under French control, putting Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria on the throne as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, with support from the Catholic Church, conservative elements in the upper class, and some indigenous communities.

Comonfort was defeated by the French at the Battle of San Lorenzo on 8 May 1863. He retreated to Mexico City and then followed the national government when it retreated from the capital on 31 May 1863. He returned to government office and was made Minister of War.

He was heading from San Luis Potosí to Guanajuato on 13 November 1863, when he was killed in a surprise attack between Chamacuero and Celaya at the Soria Mill, by a party under the command of Chief Gonzales Aguirre. His body was taken to San Miguel de Allende.

Ignacio Comonfort was killed on 13 November 1863 in a surprise attack near Chamacuero

Despite repeated Imperial losses to the Republican Army and ever-decreasing support from Napoleon III, Maximilian would chose to remain in Mexico rather than return to Europe. He was captured and executed on 19 June 1867, along with two Mexican supporters. After the republic was restored in 1867, Comonfort’s ashes were taken to the cemetery of San Fernando.

Most historical comment on Comonfort focuses on his role in the initial stages of the Mexican Reform, when he was a hero of the Revolution of Ayutla, became provisional president and made possible the Constitution of 1857. But he has been severely criticised for his support of the coup d’état that overthrew this constitution and set the stage for the disastrous War of the Reform. Nevertheless, he remains a key figure in the development of liberal politics and democracy in Mexico.

The town where he is buried was renamed Comonfort in his honour. Comonfort covers an area of 485.90 sq km and has a population of 67,642. In pre-Columbian times, the area that is now Comonfort was known as Chamacuero, a word of Purépecha origin that means ‘to fall down’ or ‘place of ruins.’ Since 2018, Comonfort has been a ‘Pueblo Mágico’ or tourist town of ‘cultural richness, historical relevance, cuisine, art crafts, and great hospitality.’

The grave of Ignacio Comonfort in Comonfort, previously known as Chamacuero

The genealogy of Ignacio Comonfort:

Peter Comerford from Callan, Co Kilkenny, may have been born ca 1710/1720. He married Elena Rosete (?Rothe) and they were the parents of:

Joseph Comerford was born in Callan, Co Kilkenny, perhaps ca 1740/1750. He moved from Ireland to Puebla in Mexico in the mid-18th century where he became known as José Comonfort and is described as comerciante or a businessman. He married María Gertrudis Josefa Onecífora Carricarte Ortega (1754- ), on 7 January 1770, in Puebla (witness: Ignacio José Javier Carricarte Ortega, her brother). She was a daughter of (Captain) Pedro Carricarte Juanchín and María de los Dolores Ortega-Caballero Angón.

They were the parents of eight children, five sons and three daughters:

1, Pedro José Ignacio Comonfort Carricarte (1771- ), named after his grandfather in Callan, died in infancy.
2, José Miguel Ignacio Comonfort Carricarte (1776- ).
3, Pedro de Jesús Ignacio Comonfort Carricarte (1781- ).
4, Mariano José Anselmo Comonfort Carricarte (1782- ), married María Guadalupe Ríos; see below.
5, María Josefa Atanasia Comonfort Carricarte (1785), born 1785, married 1 May 1808 in Puebla, José Ignacio Cuellar Rincón.
6, Manuel José Ignacio Comonfort Carricarte (1786- ).
7, María Antonia Ildefonsa Comonfort Carricarte (1790- ).
8, María Ignacia Juana Comonfort Carricarte (1791- ).

Their fourth son:

Mariano José Anselmo de la Santísima Trinidad Comonfort Carricarte (1782- ) was born 22 April 1782 in Puebla de Zaragoza, México and was baptised that day. He was a subteniente (sub-lieutenant) in the Batallón de Izúcar in 1812, and later a lieutenant-colonel in the Mexican army.

He married María Guadalupe Ríos (1785- ), and they were the parents of two sons and two daughters:

1, José Luis Gonzaga Comonfort Ríos (1809- ), died in infancy.
2, (President) José Ignacio Gregorio Comonfort de los Ríos (1812-1863), of whom next.
3, Juana Comonfort Ríos (1815-1899), born 1815 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas; married 11 June 1837 in Puebla, Miguel María Arrioja Freyre (1807-1867); and died 20 March 1899 in Coyoacán, México. They were the parents of six children, three sons and three daughters, who continued to hold the Comonfort (Comerford) name in the generation that followed:

1a, María de Jesús Josefa Arrioja Comonfort (1838- ).
2a, Ignacio de Jesús Toribio Arrioja Comonfort (1840- ).
3a, María Joaquina Paula Arrioja Comonfort (1843- ).
4a, Guadalupe Felipa de Jesús Arrioja Comonfort (1845).
5a, Miguel Basilio Francisco de Paula del Corazón de Jesús Arrioja Comonfort (1849- ).
6a, Emilio Antonio Arrioja Comonfort (1852- ).

4, Crescencia Comonfort Ríos.

The second but eldest surviving child was:

José Ignacio Gregorio Comonfort de los Ríos (1812-1863) was born 12 March 1812 in Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla, México, and was baptised that day in Puebla. He died aged 51 on 13 November 1863.

He was the father of two daughters. Through his relationship with María Baamonde, he was the father of:

1, Clara Comonfort Baamonde (1837-1892), she married on 7 April 1865 in México City, Victoriano Octaviano Francisco Alcerreca Villanueva (1838- ), son of General Agustín Alcerreca Leyva (1802-1862). They were the parents of three sons who continued to hold the Comonfort (Comerford) name in the generation that followed:

1a, Ignacio Alcerreca Comonfort (1869- ).
2a, Ricardo Alcerreca Comonfort (1872- ).
3a, Enrique Alcerreca Comonfort, married Guadalupe Priego Ciprés.

Through his relationship with Carmen Lara, he was the father of:

2, Adela Comonfort Lara (1843-1911), born in México City in 1843, died 8 January 1911 in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, aged 68. She married on 14 September 1865, in México City, Francisco Oliver Soler (1836-1894), son of José Oliver and Bárbara Soler. They were the parents of one son who continued to hold the Comonfort (Comerford) name into the next generation:

1a, José Ignacio Juan Oliver Comonfort (1866-1902), born 9 July 1866, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, baptised 22 July 1866; he married Dolores Garza Ayala in Monterrey on 17 April 1901; and he died 3 February 1902 in Monterrey.

The monument to Thomas Comerford in the ruined South Aisle of Saint Mary’s Church, Callan, with the coat-of-arms of the Comberford family … but which branch of the family did Peter and Joseph Comerford belong to? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The role of the Comerford or Comonfort family in the Mexican army and politics needs to be understand within the context of the Irish diaspora in Mexico. Although smaller compared to other diasporas, its contribution has had a lasting impact on many aspects of Mexican life.

William Lamport (1611-1659), who was born in Wexford, was the real-life 17th century adventurer whose escapades and lifestyle inspired the stories of ‘El Zorro.’

Hugh O’Conor (1732-1779) from Dublin, moved to Nueva España in the18th century. He was governor of the region of Texas and commander of the northern frontier. He was also the founder of the town now known as Tucson, Arizona.

Juan José Rafael Teodomiro de O’Donojú y O’Ryan (1762-1821) was the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) from 21 July 1821 to 28 September 1821 during the Mexican War of Independence. He had once been an interpreter to the Duke of Wellington and was the last Viceroy of New Spain.

James Power(1788-1852), from Ballygarrett, Co Wexford, founded a new Irish settlement under Mexican jurisdiction in Texas. Other Irish figures involved in this colonisation included James Hewetson from Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, John McMullen and James McGloin.

During the war between the US and Mexico in the 184os, the Irish division in the Mexican army, Los San Patricios, led by John Riley, took part in all the major battles and was cited for bravery by General López de Santa Anna. During the war, 85 of the Irish battalion were captured and sentenced to tortures and deaths in what is considered even today as the ‘largest hanging affair in North America.’

The historian Conleth Manning identifies the Comerfords after the Butlers as the most important family in 17th century Callan, and names Edward Comerford (ca 1600-ca 1660) of Westcourt, Callan, MP for Callan, ‘as the most prominent member of the family in the town.’ Edward Comerford was the estate manager and one of the closest confidantes of both Walter Butler, 11th Earl of Ormond, and his grandson, James Butler, 12th Earl of Ormond and first Duke of Ormond. He was Sovereign or Mayor of Callan in 1632, was twice elected MP for Callan.

However, my research has yet to show which family Ignacio Comonfort’s early 18th ancestors in Callan, his grandfather Joseph Comerford and his great-grandfather Peter Comerford, were member of. The family name has been present in that part of south Kilkenny for generations and centuries, and each of the principal branches of the Comerford family, including those of Ballymack and Castleinch, have had strong connections with Callan.

There is more work to do on the Irish background of President Ignacio Comonfort and his genealogy.

The tomb of Judge Gerald Comerford in Saint Mary’s Church, Callan, Co Kilkenny, displays symbols of the passion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Patrick; a great read.