Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, home to generations of this branch of the Comerford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
The Comerford family of Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, 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 southern 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 still (April 2014) a Comerford shop on the Main Street.
Comerford General Drapery, a shopfront on Main Street, Rathdrum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
Ardavon House was burned a few years ago and has been a sad burned-out shell ever since, covered in graffiti, with its doors and windows blocked. Yet the house, with its imposing portico, remains a surprising element in Rathdrum’s townscape, sitting right next to the heart of the town, yet remaining aloof in its secluded grounds, hopefully awaiting refurbishment.
There was a number of inter-marriages between the Comerford family of Rathdrum and the Ellis family. The Ellis family of Kilpoole, Co Wicklow, were one of the last owners of Rathdrum’s largest brewery, at the Fairgreen.
Members of the Comerford family were close friends of Charles Stewart Parnell, and the family become associated with Co Wexford through inter-marriage with the Esmonde family. The most prominent members of this branch of the family in more recent times were the Republican activist, author and journalist Maire Comerford and her nephew, the film-maker Joe Comerford.
This branch of the Comerford family is said to have originated in Balinakill, Co Laois, between Abbeyleix, Ballyragget and Castlecomer, and close to the border of Co Laois and Co Kilkenny.
The Comerford links with Ballinakill date back to the mid-16th century, when the Revd Peter Comerford, probably a member of the Comerford family of Waterford and Castleinch, Co Kilkenny, was the Rector of Dysert Galen (Ballinakill), Co Laois, in the Diocese of Leighlin. He was presented by the Crown to the Rectory of Maghnan de Galen on 26 October 1550.
However, the late Maire Comerford, in conversations in the early 1970s, expressed the tradition that this branch of the Comerford family was related to the Comerfords of Bunclody (Newtownbarry), Co Wexford.
The Comerford family is recalled on the 1798 memorial in Ballinakill, Co Laois (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2008)
A COMERFORD of Ballinakill, who may have been born ca 1742, is said to have been a hero during the 1798 Rising. A monument erected in the Square in the centre of Ballinakill in 1898 bears the inscription: “This monument is erected by the Ballinkill ’98 Club to commemorate the memory of the men who gave their lioves for Ireland in 1798. COMERFORD. GRENNAN. GEOGHAN. McEVOY. FAGAN. FOX. The above mentioned patriots are interred at Castle Lane. Beannacht Dé le h-anam na marbh.”
This Comerford patriot was married and had at least five children:
1, ..., a daughter, unmarried.
2, ..., a daughter, unmarried. These two “maiden aunts” lived “a little down from the monument” to the men from Ballinakill who were killed during the 1798 Rising.
3, William Comerford, a son, of whom now.
4, Edmund Comerford, a juror in Ballinakill in 1823.
5, Edward Comerford, brewer, of Ballinakill, living in the 1820s, of whom after his brother William.
The third child:
WILLIAM COMERFORD (?born ca 1772). He moved from Ballinakill, Co Laois, to Laragh, Co Wicklow, where he was the proprietor of a flour mill. He married Ellen ... and they had seven children:
4, (The Revd) William Comerford, a Vincentian priest.
7, John Comerford, who married A... Ellis and had at least four children:
● 1a, Mary.
● 2a, Edward Comerford, married ... and had at least four children:
●● 1b, Julia.
●● 2b, Mary.
●● 3b, Haddin.
●● 4b, Helen.
● 3a, Alexander Comerford.
● 4a, William Comerford.
The youngest brother of William Comerford of Laragh, Co Wicklow, was:
EDWARD COMERFORD, brewer, of Ballinakill, Co Laois. He was living in the 1820s. He married D... Fitzpatrick, and they were the parents of at least three sons:
1, Matthew Comerford, died 1894.
2, James Comerford (1799-1867), of whom next.
3, John Comerford.
The former Comerford Mill in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
The second named son:
JAMES COMERFORD (1799-1867), of Rathdrum, Co Wicklow. He was born in 1799. He owned the Comerford mill in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and in 1863 he built Ardavon House, which remained the family home of this branch of the Comerfords for a number of generations. Barney Comerford says the mill was built in 1826 and that the mill operated for 100 years. But other family sources says the Comerford family bought Rathdrum Mill from Dr Tomlinson, whose ancestors had lived in Rathdrum from about 1680. In 1840, James Comerford acquired a second mill at Laragh, a mill formerly owned by the Barton family of Glendalough House. This mill was held from the Archbishop of Dublin until James Comerford died in 1867.
The sad remains of Ardavon House on the northern end of the Main Street in Rathdrum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
James Comerford married Julia Anne Ellis. Julia Comerford died on 26 July 1865; James Comerford died on 28 May 1867, aged 65. His effects at administration were valued at almost £12,000. James and Julia were buried in Ennisboyne with many of their children. They had ten children, six daughters and four sons:
1, Kate, married T... O’Donnell and had children.
2, Julia Dymphna, born ca 1831/1832, died on 24 June 1846, buried Ennisboyne.
3, Helen Julia (Sister Mary Gertrude), a nun. She was the first novice to be received by Saint Bridget’s Convent, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow. She died on 8 February 1883.
4, Mary, died on 22 September 1859, buried in Ennisboyne.
5, Edward Comerford (1837-1874), engineer, Liverpool, and corn broker of Rockferry, Chester. Born in 1837, he died aged 37 in 1874. He married Mary P. Jones (born in 1840, died aged 72), and they had six sons and three daughters:
● 1a, Eugene Comerford (1862-1862), born in January 1862, he died an infant on 29 November 1862.
● 2a, James Comerford (1863-1863), born on 21 June 1863, he died an infant on 19 August 1864.
The passport of Edward and Violet Comerford, issued in Liverpool in 1924 (Photograph courtesy Alex Comerford, 2011)
● 3a, Edward Comerford (1864-1942). He was born on 25 June 1864, he died on 3 September 1942, aged 78, and is buried in Ennisboyne, Co Wicklow. He was educated, with his brothers Owen and James, at Oscott College, Birmingham (1876–1882). He was an engineer in the Kimberley Diamond Mines, South Africa, and a shareholder in Rathdrum Mill. He married in 1922 Violet McDermott (1891-1975), daughter of Charles McDermott and Margaret Margaret Elizabeth Ellis, who were married in Saint Mary’s Parish, Maynooth, Co Kildare, on 28 August 1878. Violet (McDermott) Comerford was born on 21 December 1891 and died on 11 November 1975.
Edward Comerford photographed with his son ‘Ted’ in his infancy ca 1924 (Photograph courtesy Alex Comerford, 2011)
They had a son:
●● 1b, Edward (‘Ted’) Comerford (1924-2003). He was born in 1924, and died in 2003. He was educated at Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare, and Trinity College Dublin, and was a civil engineer. He married Mary Fallon, a teacher. Their son, Alexander John Edward Comerford (born 28 March 1970), is a motorsports photographer.
● 4a, Mary (1866-1925), born on 1 January 1866, she died unmarried on 26 March 1925, aged 59.
● 5a, James Comerford (1868-1924), born on 9 August 1868. He was educated, with his brothers William and Owen, at Oscott College, Birmingham (1880-1881). He died unmarried, aged 56, on 11 October 1924.
● 6a, Owen James Comerford (1869-1945). He was born on 11 December 1869. He was educated, with his brothers Edward and James, at Oscott College, Birmingham (1880-1883). He was a shareholder in Rathdrum Mill. On 8 February 1898, in Saint Michael’s Church, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), he married Kathleen Byrne, daughter of Laurence Byrne of Croney Byrne, Rathdrum. They were living in Rathdrum in 1905 when their daughter Norrie was born. They later lived at ‘Coolas,’ Seafield Road, Clontarf, and he was still living there in 1940. Kathleen died on 17 October 1932. Owen later went to live with his daughter and son-in-law, and died at Gardenhill House, Castleconnell, Co Limerick, on 15 June 1945. They were the parents of an only daughter:
●● 1b, Nora Kathleen Mary (‘Norrie’) (1905-1972), born 11 April 1905 at 78 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin. On 23 September 1940, she married James Henry Montgomery, civic guard, of Chapelizod Garda Barracks, Co Dublin. They later lived at Garden Hill House, Castle Connell, Co Limerick (1945). They had no children. Norrie Montgomery died in 1972.
● 7a, Helen Polding (1870-1913). She was born on 8 June 1870, and died unmarried on 3 September 1913, aged 43. She is buried in the family grave, Ennisboyne, Co Wicklow.
● 8a, William Comerford (1872-ca 1925). He was born in 1872, and he died unmarried aged 53.
● 9a, Julia (1874-1945). She was born on 27 May 1874; she was living in Liverpool when she married Edward R Gargan, Drakerath, Nobber, Co Meath, in University Church, Dublin, on 26 April 1899. She died on 7 April 1945.
6, William Comerford (1838-1893). He was born in 1838, died on 26 October 1893, aged 55, and was buried in Ennisboyne. He was a shareholder in the Rathdrum Mill, which was built in 1828, closed for a short time in 1928, and finally closed in 1935.
7, James Charles Comerford (1842-1907), of Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow (of whom next).
8, Anne Elizabeth (1841-1937). She was born in 1841, and died on 26 January 1937. She married William Hartnett, merchant, of Fenwick Street, Liverpool, in Rathdrum on 26 January 1865. William Hartnett died on 2 June 1903.
9, Alexander Comerford (ca 1844-1895), a corn merchant in Liverpool, of Greenfield House, Hoole, Chester, and 11 Brunswick Street, Liverpool. He was born ca 1843/1844. A gentleman jockey, he was the owner of Woodcock and other steeplechasers, and made his last appearance on a racecourse at the Tanatside Hunt Meeting, held at Llanymynech, on 30 April 1895, when he fell on Colonel Sandbach’s Sorcerer in the Maiden Steeplechase won by Beauty. he was unmarried. He died on Sunday 26 May 1895, after he was thrown from a four-year-old horse he was schooling at Sealand Shooting Range, Chester, and landed on his head the previous afternoon. Medical assistance was quickly at hand, but he never regained consciousness. He was taken by cab to his home, Greenfield, in Hoole, Cheshire, where he died on the Sunday evening. His body was taken back to Ireland, and he was buried at Three-Mile-Water, Wicklow. His brother, James, was the chief mourner. Administration of his effects in Ireland, valued at £3,022 12s 10d, was granted to Edward Comerford in 1907.
10, (Sister) Harriet (1846-1915), a Sister of Charity (Sister Mary Joseph), died on 30 June 1915.
James Comerford’s “pleasant daughters” were the only friends of Charles Stewart Parnell’s daughter, Anna, as she grew up in Rathdrum, but “the mental inferiority to which women were condemned by ecclesiastical authority was accepted as a matter of course by them,” according to McWade, and this “galled Miss Anna and chilled her sympathy for them; if they had revolted against St Paul she would have been their close friend in spite of the castle prejudices that stood between her and them.”
The seventh child:
Charles Stewart Parnell ... James Charles Comerford was a friend and political ally in Rathdrum
JAMES CHARLES COMERFORD (1842-1907), of Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, a shareholder in Rathdrum Mill. He was born in 1842. He was a friend and political ally of his neighbour, Charles Stewart Parnell. On 15 December 1881, when the Land League organised a demonstrative day of action in support of Parnell by calling on people to plough and manure his fields at Garrymore, near Rathdrum, and at Avondale, Comerford gave his mill workers in Rathdrum and Laragh the day off to take part.
The Comerford mill in Rathdrum burned down in June 1885, but was rebuilt and the business was flourishing a year later in June 1886 when the Comerfords hosted a visit by British and Irish millers.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Esmonde, VC (1831-1872), father of Eva Mary Comerford (Photograph courtesy Roger Comerford)
On 7 September 1892, James Charles Comerford married Eva Mary Esmonde (born on 3 November 1860, died on 5 September 1949 aged 88), daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Esmonde VC (1831-1872), of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment and Deputy-Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Colonel Esmonde received the Victoria Cross for his part in the Battle of Sebastopol, on 18 June 1855, being the first officer to enter Sebastopol after the siege. Colonel Esmonde, whose great uncle was the Right Revd James Murphy, Bishop of Cork, was a younger brother of Sir John Esmonde (1826-1876), 10th Baronet, of Ballynastragh, Gorey, Co Wexford, and Glenwood, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, Liberal MP for Waterford (1852-1876).
Eva Mary (Esmonde) Comerford was three times tennis champion of Ireland.
Part of the sad ruins of Ardavon House in Rathdrum ... once the home of James Charles Comerford and his family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
James Charles Comerford died on 3 October 1907, aged 64, and is buried in Three Mile Water, Ennisboyne, Co Wicklow, with the Ellis family of Kilpoole, Co Wicklow. At the time of her death, Eva Comerford was living at St Nessan’s, Sandyford, Co Dublin, and she was buried in Ennisboyne. They had two sons and two daughters:
Máire Comerford,(1893-1982), journalist and republican activist
A false passport used by Maire Comerford during the Irish Civil War
1, Mary (‘Máire’) Eva Comerford (1893-1982), of St Nessan’s, Sandyford, Co Dublin (see Comerford Profiles 21: Máire Comerford (1893-1982), republican activist and journalist). She was born on 29 June 1893, and she died at her home aged on 16 December 1982, aged 89, unmarried. Máire Comerford was raised in Co Wexford and in Co Waterford. A life-long Republican activist, she first became active in politics as a Redmondite in Wexford Town, but then took part in the 1916 Rising. in Dublin She ran a farm in Co Wexford before working as a journalist on the staff of The Irish Press from 1935. She was buried beside Father Sweetman on Mount Saint Benedict outside Gorey, Co Wexford.
Colonel Thomas Comerford and Edith Donaldson on their wedding day in Bombay on 10 October 1921 (Photograph courtesy Roger Comerford)
2, (Colonel) Thomas James Comerford (1894-1959). He was born on 1 November 1894 and raised in Co Wexford and Co Waterford. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Irish Regiment in September 1914. He was on active service at the Souvla Bay landing (Gallipoli), and was temporarily with the 6th Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers from 7 to 16 August 1915. He was badly wounded in the mouth and chest and was not declared fit for active service until December 1915. He later told his son that he was in Dublin while his sister Máire was involved in the Easter Rebellion in 1916. He was on active service in France from 22 July 1916 in the latter part of Battle of the Somme with the 13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, and then in Belgium at the Battles of Messines, Langemark, Menin Road, Ploegsteert and Wytschaate. He joined the Indian Army in November 1917 and would spend 25 years in India. He was active in World War II organising supplies for the Chindits. He died aged 65 on 1 January 1959 in West Malling, Kent. He married in Bombay on 10 October 1921 Edith Isobel Donaldson; she died on 9 September 1990. They had a son and a daughter. Their grandson is Roger Comerford.
3, Dympna Helen (1897-1977), born 9 November 1897, she died in 1977 aged 80. She married Paddy Mulligan, and they had a son and a daughter, Patrick Mulligan and Margaret.
4, Alexander E. (‘Sandy’) Comerford (1900-1966), of Nairn, Saint Margaret’s Park, Malahide, Co Dublin. He was born 5 February 1900 and died on 17 December 1966. He worked with Bord na Mona. He married on 5 October 1941 Kathleen McNelis (1911-2000) of Donegal. She was born on 22 December 1911 and died on 29 December 2000. They are buried in Malahide Cemetery, Co Dublin. They are the parents of the film-maker Joe Comerford (see Comerford Profiles 24: Joe Comerford, film-maker).
The fire at Ardavon House (Photograph courtesy Roger Comerford
Ardavon House was the residence of the Comerford family until 1958 when it was acquired by the Wicklow County Vocational Education Committee (VEC). It was a school until the end of 1991 when it was superseded by the newly built Avondale Community College. The woodwork used in the construction of Ardavon was pitch pine, said to have been salvaged from a vessel wrecked off the Wicklow coast.
Ardavon House was badly destroyed in a fire in 1997. Despite local authority undertakings to rebuild it, the house stands derelict today (2014), a sad reminder of former days.
Another Rathdrum family
A number of Comerfords from another family in Rathdrum are buried in the graveyard at Saint Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough, Co Wicklow. This Comerford family originated in Co Kerry, and moved to Rathdrum through marriage.
James Comerford, from Derrynane, Co Kerry, married Margaret (Peg), daughter of James and Catherine Brennan of Main Street, Rathdrum. Peg Comerford died on 27 December 1879, aged 42, and was buried in Saint Kevin’s, Glendalough, Co Wicklow.
The grave of William, Mary and Eithne Comerford from Rathdrum in Glendalough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
William Comerford (1872-1951), of Rathdrum, Co Wicklow. He was born in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, in 1872 and was brought up by his uncle, James Brennan. He married Mary Josephine O’Neill, whose family owned the coaching inn that became the drapery shop in Rathdrum that was later owned by the Comerford family. William Comerford of Rathdrum died on 22 June 1951, aged 79; his wife Mary Joe died on 22 September 1987, and are buried in Saint Kevin’s, Glendalough, with their 18-year-old daughter, Eithne, who died on 26 April 1944.
They were the parents of at least three daughters, including:
1, Margaret, born 1 February 1916. Peg, or Peig O Tighearnaigh (née Comerford), of Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, originally from Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, died on 29 December 1980, and is buried in Saint Kevin’s, Glendalough, Co Wicklow. She married (Ambrose) Breandán O Tighearnaigh (1925-2013) of Mount Merrion and late of New Ireland/Irish National Insurance, former Commandant, 11th Motor Squadron, FCA (Reserve Army), Insurance Institute of Ireland, Chartered Insurance Institute and board of Peamount Hospital. He died aged 88 on 15 October 2013, and was buried in Roundwood Cemetery, Co Wicklow. They were the parents of a daughter and two sons, Brenda, Cian O Tighearnaigh and Colm O Tighearnaigh.
2, Eithne (1925-1944), who was born on 12 July 1925 and died at the age of 18 on 26 April 1944. She is buried in Saint Kevin’s, Glendalough, Co Wicklow.
The grave of Peig O Tighearnaigh (née Comerford) of Mount Merrion, originally from Rathdrum, in Glendalough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
Patrick Comerford, visits to Ballinakill, Co Laois, 21.9.2008, 22.4.2012.
Patrick Comerford, visits to Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, latest visits 6.4.2014, 27.10.2014.
Patrick Comerford, visits to Glendalough, Co Wicklow, latest visit 31.10.2009.
Patrick Comerford’s conversations with the late Maire Comerford.
Barney Comerford, ff 512-513 (Tables WI, WIA).
Burke’s Peerage, 1970, s.v. Esmonde, p. 956.
Brian Cantwell, Memorials of the Dead – South-East Wicklow, 2 (Delgany, 1973-1975), # 56.
Brian Cantwell, Memorials of the Dead – North-West Wicklow with Laragh and Glendalough, 4 (Delgany, 1976-1978), # 140.
RH Foster, Charles Stewart Parnell: the Man and his Family (2nd ed, Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1979).
The Irish Press, 9.2.1971.
The Irish Times, 16.12.1982.
Malahide Cemetery gravestones.
RM McWade, The uncrowned king: the life and public services of the Hon Stewart Parnell (Philadelphia, 1891).
Mss family trees, Roger Comerford.
Email correspondence with Alexander Comerford, 23-24 October 2009; conversation with Alexander Comerford, 2011.
Email correspondence with Roger Comerford, 28-29 October 2009, 4, 7 and 16 November 2009.
Email correspondence with DD Comerford and Roger Comerford, 14 April 2016.
© Patrick Comerford 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016
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