17.1: Comerford House, near Spanish Arch, Galway: donated to Galway City by the Comerford family and for a time the home of the Galway City Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
Comerford House, beside the Spanish Arch in Galway, was home to the Comerford family for a number of generations before being donated to Galway Corporation. It has been an award-winning city museum and the name of Comerford House recalls close links between Galway City and the Comerford Family.
The first prominent member of the family to have clear links with Galway City was Gerald Comerford of Inchiholohan or Castleinch, Co Kilkenny, who was appointed a Commissioner for the shiring of Connacht in 1585. He was living in Galway in 1588, when he was a member of the Council or Commission of Connacht. A year later, he was involved on behalf of Bingham in failed negotiations with the O’Flahertys, Burkes and Joyces. In a subsequent battle, Gerald Comerford slew 16 of the rebels, and he was involved in fortifying Galway against the Morough O’Flaherty. In September 1591, Gerald Comerford was appointed the Attorney-General of Connacht and Thomond, with the promise of a grant of lands in Munster. As the Attorney-General of Connacht, he lived in Galway, but also resided in Ennis, Co Clare, and in Athlone. [See Comerford Profiles 4: Justice Garret Comerford (ca 1558-1604), judge and politician and Chapter 7: The Comerfords of Castleinch and Waterford.]
17.2: Galway’s streets still retain some of the charm that dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when Gerald Comerford lived there ... this armorial window in William Street shows the arms of the Browne (second from left), de Burgo (third from left), Penrice (first on right) and De La Hyde (second on right) families (Photograph © Patrick Comerford 2008)
In the 19th century, a Comerford family in Galway became closely involved with the tragic events that unfolded in Co Clare and in Co Galway as consequences of the Great Famine.
On 18 September 1832, Henry Comerford, merchant, of Merchant’s Road, Galway, was admitted a Freeman of Galway. In 1832, Charles Comerford, then aged 25, son of George Comerford (coachmaker) and his wife Jane, emigrated from Galway with his wife Margaret (née Mannion), then aged 17, from Galway (see below).
In 1839, Ballykeel House, or Ballykeale House, near Kilfenora, Co Clare, became the property of Henry Comerford. The house was home of the Lysaght family in the late 18th century, and George Lysaght was living there in 1814.
By 1840, Henry Comerford and Isaac Comerford were prosperous merchants in Galway. Henry Comerford was sworn a member of the Galway Town Grand Jury that year and was a subscriber to the Galway Relief Fund. Throughout the mid-19th century, Henry Comerford of Merchant’s Road, Galway, and Isaac Comerford were prominent magistrates and merchants in Galway.
In 1845, Henry Comerford, merchant, of Galway, offered £40,000 for the O’Neill estate at Bunowen, Barony of Ballynahinch, Co Galway, but his offer was refused.
Henry Comerford of Galway and Ballykeale House, Kilfenora, Co Clare, was a Galway merchant and landowner and magistrate, but he is also associated with one of the tragic disasters during the famine.
At the height of the famine, on 12 July 1849, he offered to give land attached to Ballykeale Workhouse in Kilfenora, Co Clare, free of rent, to Ennistymon Poor Law Union in Co Clare.
17.4: The Mairtín Oliver ... a Galway hooker named after Martin Oliver, captain of Henry Comerford’s brig, the St John, is a central exhibition in the Galway City Museum, next to Comerford House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
Henry Comerford was the owner of the St John, a Galway brig whose shipwreck was one of the most tragic events during the mass exodus from Ireland in the aftermath of the Great Famine. The St John left Galway on 7 September 1849, with a crew that included Captain Martin Oliver and the first mate, Henry Comerford, Jr., thought to have been a nephew of the owner Henry Comerford. Many of those who perished on board the St John were from Ennistymon, Lahinch, and Kilfenora in Co Clare, Galway City, and Connemara in Co Galway.
The loss of the St John near Cohasset off the coast of Massachusetts on Sunday 7 October 1849 led to almost 100 deaths. The helpless ship was smashed again and again on Grampus Rock and began to break up. Horrified spectators on the shore saw people being “swept in their dozens” into the boiling surf from the crowded decks. People clung desperately to wreckage although they were again and again buried beneath tons of water as the colossal waves broke over them. Eight women and four men made their way to the shore, almost dead of exhaustion. Some had to have hands prised from the wreckage which had saved their lives. The survivors among the crew included the first mate, Henry Comerford.
17.5: Henry David Thoreau witnessed the aftermath of the St John disaster and met Henry Comerford on the shore
The American writer Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and his friend Ellery Channing (1818-1901) were in Boston when the tragedy occurred and they quickly made their way to Cohasset. There Thoreau met “several hay-riggings and farm-wagons each loaded with three large, rough deal boxes. We do not need to ask what was in them. The owners of the wagons were made the undertakers. Many horses in carriages were fastened to the fences near the shore, and for a mile or more, up and down, the beach was covered with people looking out for bodies, and examining the fragments of the wreck. It was now Tuesday morning and the sea was still breaking violently on the rocks. There were eighteen or twenty of the same large boxes I have mentioned lying on a green hillside and surrounded by a crowd. The bodies which had been recovered, twenty seven or eight in all, had been collected there.”
Thoreau met a woman who had emigrated from Ireland in an earlier ship “but had left her infant behind for her sister to bring, came and looked into these boxes, and saw in one her child in her sister’s arms, as if the sister had meant to be found thus; and within three days after, the mother died from the effect of the sight.”
A newspaper report of the time says that 46 bodies had been taken from the sea by nightfall, and were buried in a common grave. Thoreau witnessed seeing the funeral headed by the captain and the survivors. Thoreau and Channing saw the first mate, Henry Comerford, jr., who had survived the wreck along with the captain. Thoreau described Comerford as a “slim-looking youth” who “seemed a little excited.”
Later, the two companions from Concord spoke with another survivor, a “sober looking man,” and Thoreau tried to ask him some questions about the wreck but, not surprisingly, the man “seemed unwilling to talk about” the disaster, and wandered off. A week later, a funeral service was held for some of the victims, conducted by a Unitarian minister, the Revd Joseph Osgood. A second funeral was held after Osgood’s, this one a Catholic Mass for the Irish victims.
In all, 45 emigrants were buried, all unidentified, in a mass grave in Cohasset’s cemetery, although the final death toll was between 90 and 100. Today that grave is marked by a 20-ft Celtic cross erected on 30 May 1914 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. A small maritime museum in the town houses a scale model of the St John and the exhibits include artefacts from the wreck as well, including an immigrant’s steamer that was washed up on shore that fateful day.
Thoreau’s account of the wreck was published a few years later as The Shipwreck in the June 1855 issue of Putnam’s Magazine. Three years after Thoreau’s death in 1862, this was reprinted as Chapter One in his book Cape Cod. His account of the tragedy is one of his most gripping essays, and also inspired Robert Lowell’s poem, The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket, published in Selected Poems (1976).
Eventually, Martin Oliver and Henry Comerford returned to Galway. Martin Oliver is still remembered in Galway, where a Galway hooker has been named after him and is one the central exhibits in the Galway City Museum, close to Comerford House.
Meanwhile, famine-related tragedies continued to trouble the Comerford family.
A post-famine disaster in Kinvara
In the immediate aftermath of the Famine, Henry Comerford faced another disaster arising from his speculation in lands and estates in the Galway and Clare area.
In the 1850s, Comerford paid over £35,000 for 4,440 acres of land in Co Galway, including 2,700 acres from Sir William Gregory at Kinvara, for which he paid £23,000, the de Basterot estate at Duras, and portion of the estates owned by J. Lambert and J. Browne, according to the Galway historians, Pádraig G. Lane and Patrick Melin.
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. Marie Adelaide O’Brien (1778-1858), who was related to the O’Brien and Comerford families of Dublin and Balbriggan, married James Basterot, son of Bartholomew Basterot of Co Galway, Comte de Basterot, of Duras House.
17.6: Duras House ... bought by Henry Comerford in the 1850s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
At the time of Griffith’s Valuation in 1855, Count de Basterot was leasing Duras House and demesne from Henry Comerford. At the same time, Comerford owned a substantial property in the townland of Rineen, including a mill, which was valued at £26 and which he was leasing to Daniel O’Dea. Comerford also held five townlands in the parish of Kilcummin and two townlands in the parish of Killannin, Barony of Moycullen and the townland of Dawros, parish of Kilmoylan, Barony of Clare.
The glittering prospect of the O’Brien fortune led James to greater and greater extravagances. By 1814, it was noted that the marriage portion of Marie Adelaide O’Brien, la Comtesse de Basterot, wife of James de Basterot, had been dissipated quickly and the couple often survived on her life annuity of £300 from the O’Briens, with constant battles with creditors.
The Duras House estate was finally mortgaged to Henry Comerford of Kinvara, Co Galway. James de Basterot died in August 1849. His son Bartholomew was in despair, with creditors were threatening to seize his estate at La Choltiere in France, which he had received from his wife Pauline, and Henry Comerford was threatening to seize the Duras property. Eventually, arrangements were made so that Countess Marie Adelaide O’Brien Basterot remained living at Duras until her death in 1858. There is a large mausoleum in Duras graveyard for Marie-Adelaide O’Brien de Basterot.
With the death of Marie Adelaide in 1858, Henry Comerford gained vacant possession of the Duras Estate. Three years earlier, Griffith’s Valuation in 1855 also records Henry Comerford holding lands in the parishes of Drumcreehy and Kilfenora, Barony of Burren, Co Clare.
Henry Comerford’s connections with Marie-Adelaide O’Brien de Basterot, may indicate kinship with the O’Brien and Comerford families who were Dublin merchants and operated a large mill in Balbriggan, Co Dublin.
Meanwhile, that decade immediately after the Great Famine saw a change of landlords in many parts of Ireland, adding to the economic distress and increasing emigration. Sir William Gregory (1817-1892) was forced to sell his Kinvara estate, including Kinvara Castle, which, in the early 1850s, was reported to be on the verge of complete decay.
Sir William Gregory of Coole Park, Co Galway, was MP for Galway, and later became Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1872-1877. His second wife, Isabella Augusta Lady Gregory (1852-1932), became a key figure in the Irish literary revival, was a co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, for which she wrote several plays, and was a close friend of the poet William Butler Yeats.
17.7: Sir William Gregory, sold his Kinvara estates to Henry Comerford
When the Kinvara estates were sold in the Encumbered Estates Court in 1857 to cover the debts Sir William Gregory had incurred during the Famine years, they were bought by the Galway merchant and magistrate Henry Comerford. In order to buy the Kinvara properties, Henry Comerford obtained a bank loan in Dublin on the strength of the rents that he would receive once he owned the estate.
Sir William Gregory’s relationship with his tenants was such a good one that the question of secure leases had never arisen while he was landlord. However, as soon as Henry Comerford obtained possession he proceeded to double and even treble existing rents. The mortgage Henry Comerford obtained from Messrs Cobb & Moore, a Dublin firm, in order to buy the estate, was secured on the strength of an increased rental far beyond that collected by Sir William before 1857.
17.8: Delamaine Lodge ... part of the Kinvara estates acquired by Henry Comerford
Kinvara was a seaport and market town, with two cattle fairs each year, a harbour with a good pier and quays serving as the port of Gort, Petty Sessions were held in the town and there was a police station. With his purchase, Comerford also acquired the Tolls and Customs in Kinvara, Delamaine Lodge, the area known as Town Parks, the Fair Green, the gate house and the animal pound. In all, his new estate came to a total of 333 acres.
According to Monsignor Jerome Fahy, in his History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh, the events that followed the Comerford purchase of Kinvara were altogether disastrous, and “the comparatively short interval of about twenty years witnessed the ruin of over a thousand homesteads in one parish” on the Comerford estate. Comerford’s tenants had no security of tenure, and he increased their rents drastically. According to Lane, Henry Comerford was resolute in implementing his policy of eviction.
Father Francis Arthur observed: “The change of landlords for the greatest portion of this place has rendered this one of the most wretched and deplorable parishes in Ireland.” It was, he said, impossible to obtain aid even from the merchants of Kinvara because they, as a result of Comerford’s rack-renting, were “bereft of all hope.”
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 as 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. He was a captain in the 91st Galway Regiment and the Connaught Rangers. His mother, Rose (French), was a sister of Edmund French (1775-1852), Bishop of Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora and Warden of Galway, and a daughter of Thomas Hamilton ffrench, 2nd Baron ffrench, of Castle ffrench, Co Galway.
The children of Mary (Comerford) and Francis Blake-Forster included:
1, Charles French Blake-Forster (1851-1874), High Sheriff of Galway in 1874 and author of The Irish Chieftains (Dublin, 1872). He is buried in the family vault in Bushyfield, Co Galway.
2, Francis O’Donnell Blake-Forster, whose descendants continued to live at Ballykeale House into the 1940s.
Henry Comerford’s brother, Isaac Comerford, JP (ca 1797-1869), was treasurer of the Galway Magistrates from 1847. Isaac Comerford, who was a draper and general shopkeeper in Kinvara, and a magistrate in Galway in 1862, appears to have inherited some of Henry Comerford’s estates and owned 444 acres in Co Galway.
As the landlord of Kinvara, Isaac Comerford raised the rentals of Kinvara from £335 to £1,150. However, by 1866, Isaac Comerford was adjudged a bankrupt and his assets were seized on behalf of Todd Burns and Company, Mary Street, Dublin, for monies owed. As the local historian, Monsignor Fahey, put it a generation later: “[T]he machines were overworked, and the geese that laid the golden eggs were done to death, and the comparatively short interval of about twenty years witnessed the ruin of over a thousand homesteads in one parish.” [Fahey, pp 408-409.]
Nevertheless, Isaac Comerford died in Galway on 22 January 1869, aged 72. His effects were under £3,000 when his will was proved in Tuam on 30 February 1869. The primary beneficiary and executor was Michael Comerford. His son, Isaac Comerford (ca 1846-1878), was born ca 1846, owned 444 acres in Co Galway in the 1870s, and died unmarried on 13 April 1878 at the age of 32, while his daughter, Eliza Comerford, was unmarried and living in Galway that year.
17.9: Florimond Count de Basterot continued living at Duras House, where he hosted an early meeting that led to the foundation of the Abbey Theatre
Meanwhile, Count de Basterot’s family, who had mortgaged Duras House to Henry Comerford and lost ownership of the house to Henry Comerford in the 1850s, remained as tenants at Duras House and rebuilt the house in 1866. In September 1897, the poet WB Yeats (who would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature 1923), Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn met the count at the house to start the discussions leading eventually to the formation of the Irish National Theatre, the Abbey Theatre.
In 1906, Florimond Count de Basterot was still living at Duras House, a mansion house then valued at £10. Since 1961, the house has become a popular youth hostel owned by An Oige.
An Australian political connection
GEORGE COMERFORD (coachmaker), of Galway, and his wife Jane were the parents of:
CHARLES COMERFORD (ca 1807-1813- ), born in Galway in 1807 or 1813. He married Margaret Marion Manning or Manning (1820-1904), who was also born in Galway. In 1832, when he was 25 (sic), they emigrated to Australia and settled on lands in the Berry estate in the Shoalhaven district of New South Wales.
Charles and Margaret Comerford had a large family, including seven daughters and two sons:
1, Mary Anne (twin), born 1845, of whom next.
2, Margaret (1845-1870) (twin), born 1845, died 1870.
3, George Comerford (1847-1916), born 1847, died in 1916 in Nowra, New South Wales.
4, Elizabeth (1851-1868), born 1851.
5, Catherine (1853-1903), born 1853, died in Nowra in 1903.
6, Johanna (1855- ), born 1855.
7, Briget Maria (1857-1908). She married George Washington Sargent (1855-1936), of Ballina, New South Wales. She died in Lismore, New South Wales, in 1908. They had four children, three daughters and a son:
● 1a, Samuel Sargent (1884-1884), died in infancy.
● 2a, Alice May Sargent (1890-1938). She married George Edward Inall, and they have descendants living.
● 3a, Margaret G Sargent (1894 - ).
● 4a, Abba Sophia Sargent (1897-1900), died in childhood.
8, Charles J Comerford (1859-1865), born 1859, died in 1865 Shoalhaven, NSW.
9, Henrietta (1863- ).
The eldest surviving daughter of Charles and Margaret Comerford was:
MARY ANNE COMERFORD, who was born in 1845. In 1866, she married Frederick Palmer Thrower (1846-1924), who was born in Westminster, and baptised in 1848, later emigrating to Australia. On the marriage certificate, she describes herself as ‘lady’ and his occupation is ‘boot and shoemaker.’ Later, he was a publican in Sydney.
They were the parents of:
THOMAS HENRY THROWER (1870–1917), a trade union activist, cabinet maker, a Labor member of the NSW parliament. He was born in Sydney on 28 June 1870. He was President of the Furniture Trades Union, secretary of the Trades and Labour Council and secretary of the Eight Hour Day Committee in 1900. From 1907 to 1910, he was secretary of the Western Timbergetters’ Association.
He was a member of the central executive of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) for much of the time between 1900 and 1915.
In 1904 he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as the Labor member for Macquarie. He held that seat until 1907 and again from 1910 to 1917. He died at Redfern on 21 June 1917.
He married Catherine Newman, and they had five children, two sons and three daughters.
A local historian and local solicitors
Another prominent Co Galway family is descended from two officers in the Royal Irish Constabulary, father and son, whose roots were in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, and before that in Virginia, Co Cavan. According to the Tuam solicitor and historian, William Comerford, this family was descended from the Inchiholohan branch of the family in Co Kilkenny.
FRANCIS COMERFORD lived in Virginia, Co Cavan, where he is said to have farmed on the shores of Lough Ramor at the end of the 18th century. His sister, Mary Comerford (1786-ca 1870), died in Cavan town at the age of 84. Francis Comerford married Leonora Flood and they had at least two sons:
1, James Comerford, of whom next.
2, Thomas Comerford, who owned a public house in Liverpool.
The first named son:
JAMES COMERFORD (1816-1905), born in 1816, died aged 89 in 1905. He was a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, based first in Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, and then in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny. He married Catherine Tuohy (born 1829, died aged 76, ca 1901). They had thirteen children, including:
1, Thomas Comerford.
2, (Detective Inspector) Francis ‘Frank’ Comerford (ca 1861-1940), of whom next.
3, Mary, emigrated to Australia at the age of 12, married ... Tuohy and had children.
4, Teresa (Maher), principal of the Girls’ National School, Urlingford, Co Kilkenny. She married Edward Maher (died 1926), principal of Lagganstown School. They later lived in Golden, Co Tipperary, and John Street, Cashel, Co Tipperary. They had two sons and two daughters:
● 1a, Mary, (1900-1924).
● 2a, (Sister) Kitty (1902-1980). She joined the convent of the Sacred Heart in Mount Anville, Dublin, in 1923 and spent most of her life in Japan. When she died in 1980, she had spent 46 years in the Far East and had been home only once, in 1973, on the fiftieth anniversary of her entry into the convent.
● 3a, (Revd) Thomas Maher, CSSp (1903-1990). He was born on 1 July 1903. He was educated at Lagganstown and went to Rockwell College, Co Tipperary (with his cousin Mick Comerford, see below). He was a Spiritan novice at Kimmage Manor, and studied philosophy and theology at Blackrock College. He was ordained priest in All Hallows’ College, Dublin, in 1930. He was a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya (1931-1940), a British army chaplain (1940-1963, with the rank of Major), serving in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Madagascar, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mauritius and the Secheyelles. He later returned to missionary work in Nairobi, and when he retired in 1981 he returned to Rockwell College.
● 4a, Margaret (Peggy), born 1905, living, unmarried, in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, in 1990.
5, Kate, unmarried.
6, (Sister) Bride, a Good Shepherd nun in Limerick.
7, Margaret, born 1856, a cook, died unmarried.
8, William Comerford (1871-1960), of whom after his brother Frank.
The second named son of James and Catherine Comerford was:
(District Inspector) FRANCIS (‘Frank’) COMERFORD (ca 1861-1940). He was born in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, ca 1861. He was a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary had 33 years police experience before he moved from Ballymote, Co Sligo, to Tuam, Co Galway, on 2 October 1912. It is said that he “gained the goodwill of all by his tact and forbearance”, and that the general feeling was that had he not retired before 1920, “the sack of Tuam would never have occurred.” He died in December 1940, aged 79.
He married Mary Browne and they had five children, including a son and a daughter who married:
1, William Comerford, born 1903, of whom next.
2, Peg, who married William Comerford and had a son and a daughter:
● 1a, John Comerford;
● 2a, Judy.
WILLIAM JAMES VALENTINE COMERFORD (1903- ), solicitor, Tuam, Co Galway. He qualified as a solicitor in February 1924, and started to practice in Tuam, Co Galway, as Henry Concanon & Co. In 1954, he moved the practice to 9 William Street, Galway. At that time, he was in partnership with Frank Meagher.
William Comerford was also a well-known local historian in Co Galway, and he believed this branch of the Comerford family was descended from the Comerford family of Inchiholohan, Co Kilkenny. His historical papers included: “Some notes on the Borough of Tuam and its records, 1817–1822,” in the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, vol 15, Nos 3 and 4 (No 19), pp 97-120 (no date, ca 1932-1933), and he was a founding member of the Old Tuam Society in 1942. He was the author also of an unpublished autobiography, “Harp sheds Crown.” 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.
William Comerford married Elizabeth Meagher and they had two sons and a daughter:
1, (Dr) Francis Rory (Rory) Comerford (1933- ). He grew up in Galway and studied medicine at University College Galway, graduating in 1957. He did postgraduate work at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, London, and trained in Rheumatology at the Lamuel Shattuck Hospital, Boston City Hospital and Boston University, and received his MD in 1974. He returned to the Department of Experimental Medicine in Galway in 1974. He was Director of the Electron Microscopy Unit, Vice-Dean of the Medical Faculty at UCG, and had teaching visits to Tirgu Mures, Romania, and Malaysia and worked diligently with the Medical Consortium to inform students of the openings available in Ireland. As a result of this many students came to Ireland. He married Philomena O’Toole on 14 January 1960. Dr Rory Comerford is commemorated by the Comerford Prize at the School of Medicine in University College Cork. Dr Phil Comerford was a lecturer in Anatomy. They have a son and a daughter:
● 1a, (Judge) Francis Comerford, BA, LLB, BL, of Knocknacarra, Galway. Educated at University College Galway (now NUI Galway) and the King’s Inns, he was called to the Bar in 1985 and practised as a barrister on the Western Circuit, where he had wide experience in many areas of law, including criminal, land law, personal injuries and family law. He also lectured in various law courses, in particular the law of evidence, at UCG. On 19 November 2014, the Government nominated him for appointment by the President to the Circuit Court. He married Caroline Phelan, and they are the parents of Cian (died 2011), Saidhbh and Dearbhail.
● 2a, Barbara.
● 3a, Sarah Comerford.
2, Henry Comerford (1936-2016), solicitor, of whom next.
3, Deirdre Comerford (born 1942).
4, Denise Comerford (born 1942), psychiatrist.
The second son son:
HENRY COMERFORD (1936-2016), was born in Dublin in 1936. He was educated at Castleknock College, Dublin (1954), and at UCD and UCG. He qualified as a solicitor in 1963, and joined the family practice in Galway. Henry Comerford was the author of the standard reference books on fisheries legislation in Ireland. In the 1950s, he was a member of the Radio Éireann Players, and featured in many broadcast plays, including Denis Johnston’s The Moon on the Yellow River. Later he acted with the Gate and the Gas Company Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, and he had two plays produced in the Peacock Theatre.
Henry Comerford continued in partnership in Galway following his father’s retirement in the early 1970s. He later amalgamated the then firm of Henry Concanon & Co with Sean Ford or Sean MacGiollarnath and Albert L O’Dea under the practice name of Concanon & Co as the new firm’s name.
In the 1981 General Election, he stood unsuccessfully for the Dail as a Fine Gael candidate.
The partnership Concanon & Co was dissolved amicably in 1982, and Henry Comerford began a new practice as a sole practitioner that year as Henry Comerford & Co at Sea Road, Galway. He retired when John Dillon-Leetch and Robert Potter-Cogan acquired the practice in 1995, and they continue to practice with the name of Henry Comerford & Co. “Traditionally we stand for unyielding adherence to the principles of trust, fair play and independence in pursuit of justice,” they say. “Our clients are individuals who seek professional and independent legal expertise. Truth and experience constitute our foundations.”
Henry Comerford died at home on 26 February 2016. He married Deirdre Donovan, from Tralee, Co Kerry, in Castlebar, Co Mayo, in 1963, and they have a son and a daughter:
1, William Stephen Comerford, born 30 August 1966.
2, Emma Louise Comerford, born 12 April 1968, lives in Galway.
The second surviving son and youngest child of James Comerford and his wife Catherine (above) of Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, was:
WILLIAM COMERFORD (1871-1961), teacher, of Urlingford, Co Kilkenny. He married firstly Honora Maher and they had five children, three sons and two daughters:
1, (Major) James Comerford, MSc (1899-1950), Chief of the Dublin Fire Brigade. He married Agnes Doyle, and they had two sons and a daughter:
1a, Irene (‘Renee’) (1933- ). She was born on 23 May 1933. On 5 May 1961, she married Richard Frances (‘Richie’) Lyons (died 5 December 2012). They lived in Sutton, Co Dublin, and he was President of Clontarf Rugby Club 1980-1981, and played cricket with Clontarf Cricket Club. They are the parents of two sons and two daughters.
2a, Michael James Comerford (1939-2010). He was born in 1939. He was an avid sailor and boater and a Past Commodore of the Grosse Pointe Sail Club, Michigan. He died on 19 December 2010, aged 72. He and his wife Maureen O’Leary are the parents of a son, David Comerford, a daughter Niamh, and have four grandchildren.
3a, Kieran Anthony Comerford, BE, MBA (1944- ), who married Lynda Byrne, musician, and they have two sons. He was educated at Rockwell College, Co Tipperary, and University College Dublin. He is a retired technical consultant and the author of a number of books, including Newgrange and the New Science.
2, Nora Kathleen, born 1901, married ... Cole.
3, (Revd) Michael (Mick) Comerford, CSSp, of Rockwell College, Co Tipperary.
4, Bridget, born 1905, died in infancy.
5, Liam Comerford (1914-1982), teacher, of Dungarvan, Co Waterford. He married Nora French, and they had two sons and two daughters:
● 1a, Brian Aidan Comerford (born 1941); he married Nora Lillis and they have two daughters.
● 2a, Valerie (born 1943), married Donal Sweeney and they have two sons.
● 3a, Frank Comerford (born 1945), married with three adult children.
● 4a, Mary (Kerrans) (born 1947), married, with a son and a daughter.
Honora (Maher) Comerford died in 1916, and William Comerford married secondly Margaret Cotter (1890-1959) They had seven children:
6, John (Jack) Comerford (1919-1992), butler to Lord Dunsany. He married Eithne Hickey (1924-1989) and they had three children:
● 1a, Anthony (Tony) Comerford married Denise Gannon and they have two adult children.
● 2a, William Comerford, married Gabrielle Algar and has a daughter.
● 3a, (Revd) Brendan Comerford, a Jesuit priest.
7, (Revd) Francis George (Frank) Comerford, CSSp (1920-2012), born 24 April 1920, ordained priest 1949, Spiritan missionary. He died 10 September 2012.
8, Joseph Patrick Kieran Comerford (1921-2008). He was born 4 September 1921, and died 5 April 2008. He married Maureen Guilfoyle (1927-2007); she was born 16 June 1927, and died November 2007. They had three sons and three daughters:
● 1a, Raymond Comerford (born 1954), of Bray Co Wicklow, married Clare Bennett and they have adult children.
● 2a, Frances, married John Lyons and they have adult children.
● 3a, Dolores, married Anthony Dillon and they have adult children.
● 4a, Mary Teresa , married James (Shem) Ronan, and they have adult children.
● 5a, Liam Comerford, married Siobhan Allen; they have adult children.
● 6a, James Joseph (Seamus) Comerford, married Caroline Burke and they have adult children..
9, Mary (1924-1942).
10, Margaret May (Peggy).
11, Anne (Nancy) (1925-1997).
12, Catherine (Kitty) (1928-2013), married Patrick (Pat) Doheny (1922-1985) and had children.
Comerford House, W.J.V. Comerford’s home in Galway, stands beside Spanish Arch in Galway, was the original home of the Galway City Museum from 1976. The new museum, which opened in 2006, stands on a site behind Comerford House. Comerford House is an historic property that was donated to the city council by the Comerford family to be used for community purposes.
17.10: Comerford House on the banks of the River Corrib, as seen from the Claddagh ... it was home to the Galway City Museum until 2006 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
The house was built ca 1800 as a private house. In recent years, it was home to the Comerford family and the Greenwood family. Clare Consuelo Sheridan (1885-1970), the sculptor, journalist and writer, lived at Comerford House between 1948 and 1954. She was a first cousin of Sir Winston Churchill and of Sir Shane Leslie, and is said to have sculpted Churchill while the former British prime minister painted her. She was famous too for her sculptures of Lenin and Trotsky. Her works in Galway include the Madonna of the Quays, which has been moved from the Spanish Arch to the city museum, and the larger-than-life crucifix in the Church of Christ the King in Salthill, outside Galway.
She wrote extensively about her travels in Russia, and lived an interesting and hectic life that is said to have included romantic interludes with Trotsky, Mussolini, Charlie Chaplin and even Kemal Ataurk. She was also the subject of a full-blooded biography by her cousin, Anita Leslie of Oranmore Castle, Co Galway.
In Galway, she converted to Catholicism, and while she lived in Comerford House she used the Archway Room as a private chapel. During the 1940s or 1950s she obtained the fine portico now at Comerford House from Ardfry House in Renville, Ornamore.
Beside Comerford House, on the right, is the Blind Arch and the Spanish Arch. Originally there were four arches, and Comerford House now occupies the position of the two inner arches.
The original docks were built in 1270 and are now under the foundations of the building. The new docks were completed in 1584. These four arches are not part of the old city wall but are remains of a strong extension built in 1584 to protect quays. The arches may have been used as a storage facility outside the city walls, so that no taxes were levied on the goods stored there. The name of the Spanish Arch is derived from relatively recent romantic imaginations. A re-erected fireplace, dated 1602, can be seen in the Blind Arch. It bears the arms of the Lynch and Penrice families and the initials M.L.
Comerford House became part of Galway Corporation’s administrative offices for a period, before Galway City Museum was established in 1976. The civic museum in Comerford House and its curator Bill Scanlan have received several warm reviews in international guidebooks.
The cobbled square in front of Comerford House has a modern monument, erected in 1992 to commemorate the visit to Galway in 1477 by Christopher Columbus on his way to Iceland.
The Galway City Museum , behind Comerford House and Spanish Arch, was designed by Ciaran O’Connor and Ger Harvey, architects with the Office of Public Works, and was commissioned by Galway City Council. The €9.6 million museum, which was a flagship project, opened in April 2007, with Sarah Gillespie as curator and director, and has won a Bank of Ireland Opus architectural award for 2006.
17.12: The new Galway City Museum, behind Spanish Arch and Comerford House, opened in 2006
The museum features a considerable number of artefacts related to the fishing industry, which is an integral part of tradition in Galway. Among the highlights on show are the city mace and sword, a rare 17th century altar piece, the statue of Pádraic Ó Connaire which originally stood in Eyre Square, and the Galway City hooker boat, named Máirtín Oliver by the public in honour of the captain of Henry Comerford’s brig, the St John. In addition, the museum has a restaurant with excellent views of Galway City, particularly across the River Corrib to Claddagh, the former fishing area of Galway that has given its name to the Claddagh ring.
However, the Galway Independent reported on 12 September 2007 that there are fears were fears about the deterioration of the old City Museum at Comerford House and concerns that Comerford House was being destroyed due to a lack of upkeep by city management, that it had fallen into disrepair, and that the remaining artefacts in the old museum were being hit by rain and rising damp.
While he was Mayor of Galway, Niall Ó Brolcháin raised questions about storage and the state of existing city artefacts which have been kept in the previous premises at Comerford House.
At a meeting of Galway City Council, Councillor Padraig Conneely voiced concerns over the upkeep of Comerford House and criticised the new museum for being a “white elephant.” A City Council official, Kevin Swift, conceded there were issues surrounding Comerford House “by virtue of its listing.”
The Comerfords of Ennistymon and Doonbeg, Co Clare
17.13: Comerford’s is one of the best known pubs in Doonbeg, Co Clare
Henry Comerford’s associations with the area around Ennistymon, Co Clare, in the mid-19th century, makes its worth noting that a generation or two later, at the time of the 1901 census, there was a number of Comerford families in Co Clare, including families living in Breaffy South, Doonbeg, Ennistymon, Kilmurry, Kilrush Milltown Malbay and Woodfield. In Kilrush, the names on Comerford family graves in Doonbeg include names associated with the Galway branch of the family, including George Comerford (died 3 July 1925, aged 67) and Isaac Comerford (died 31 July 1983, aged 80).
GEORGE COMERFORD was the father of:
HENRY (Harry) COMERFORD (ca 1864/1865-1930), Station Master in Ennistymon, was born ca 1869/1870, and was living in Ennistymon at the time of the 1901 census. On 7 November 1899, in Saint Alphonsus Church, Limerick, he married Margaret Lysaght, daughter of Daniel Lysaght, shopkeeper, of 14 Main Street, Ennistymon. Henry and Margaret Comerford ran a thriving china shop business and a bar and boarding house, which continued through the 1940s. Henry died on 23 June 1930, aged 65; Margaret died in 1952, aged 82. Their children included:
1, Nora Comerford (1901-1901), twin, born 22 April 1901, died 1901.
2, Mary Comerford (1901- ), twin, born 22 April 1901.
3, George Comerford (1902- ), born 26 April 1902.
4, Nora Comerford (1903- ), born 9 November 1903.
5, Daniel Comerford, born 12 September 1905.
6, Lucy Comerford (1908-1972), born 22 September 1908. Lucy carried on the business until her death on 29 July 1972.
7, Isaac Comerford, born 9 January 1912.
The Comerfords of Doonbeg and Kilkee, Co Clare
GEORGE COMERFORD married Lucy Byrnes (ca 1830/1831-pre 1900). He had died by the time his son George married in 1900. At the 1901 census, Lucy was a widow, aged 70, and living with her son George Comerford. They were the parents of at least four children, three daughters and a son:
1, Eliza, of Kilkee Parish, Co Clare.
2, George Comerford (ca 1861/1862-1925), shopkeeper of Doonbeg, Co Clare, of whom next.
3, Julia (ca 1865/1866-post 1901), of Doonbeg, Co Clare, shop assistant, aged 36, living with her widowed mother, her brother and and younger sister in 1901.
4, Lucy (ca 1868/1869-post 1901), of Doonbeg, Co Clare, shopkeeper, aged 32, living with her widowed mother, her brother and her sister Julia in 1901.
Their only son:
GEORGE COMERFORD (ca 1861/1862-1925), shopkeeper of Doonbeg, Co Clare, aged 39 in 1901. On 28 February 1900, he married Mary O’Gorman (1862-191), daughter of Michael O’Gorman, and they were the parents of two sons and a daughter:
1, George Comerford (1901-post 1935), of Doonbeg, Co Clare. He married Mary Anne (Doto) Kent. They were the parents of a son and three daughters, and have living descendants.
2, Isaac Comerford (1902-1983), married Teresa Madigan; they were the parents of eight children, and have living descendants. Teresa died on 2 August 2004, aged 88.
3, Mary Ann (born 1904).
Later, Danny Comerford and Tommy Comerford were pupils at CBS Ennistymon in the 1960s. The former Comerford home and business later became Paul Haugh’s butcher shop at 14 Main Street, Ennistymon, Co Clare.
© Patrick Comerford, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.
Modern printed sources
Mary Casteleyn, ‘The O’Briens of Fairfield, Co Galway: the O’Brien relations of Florimond, Comte de Basterot,’ The Irish Genealogist, vol 11, No. 3 (2004), pp 190-204.
Barney Comerford, Tables I-13, I-13A, I-13A1, pp 284-286.
(Monsignor) Jerome Fahey, DD, VG, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh, (Dublin: MH Gill & Son, 1893).
Pádraig G. Lane, ‘Some Galway and Mayo landlords of the mid-nineteenth century,’ Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, vol 45 (1993), pp 70-89.
Pádraig G. Lane, ‘The Encumbered Estates Court and Galway land ownership, 1848-58,’ Galway History and Society, ed. G. Moran (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1996).
Patrick Melvin, ‘The Galway tribes as landowners and Gentry,’ Galway History and Society, ed. G. Moran (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1996).
‘Recollections of Tuam, 1912-1916,’ pp 178-191, in JA Claffey (ed), Glimpses of Tuam since the Famine (Tuam, Co Galway: Old Tuam Society, 1997).
Rockwell College Annual (1990), pp 25-28
‘The Shipwreck of the St John,’ Ennistymon Parish Magazine, 1996, http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/shipwreck_st_john.htm.
Lorna Siggins, ‘Finding its place on the waterfront,’ The Irish Times, 10 January 2007.
Seán Spellissy, The History of Galway (Limerick: Celtic Bookshop, 1999), p. 360.
Tuam Herald, obituary of Francis Comerford, 21.12.1940.
Clare County Archives: Irish Tourist Association File, Parish of Kilfenora, Clare North 9.
Comerford, WJV, ‘Harp sheds Crown’ (unpublished autobiography, MS 25,530 National Library of Ireland).
National Archives of Ireland: Rental of the Comerford estates in Cos Galway and Clare, 1857, Gordon Presentment, No 213, M.213.
National Archives of Ireland: Encumbered Estates’ Court Rentals (O’Brien), O’Neill, 14 May 1852, Vol 15, MRGS 39/007, (microfilm copy in NUI Galway).
Contemporary printed sources
Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland, 1855-1858: Gort Union, 72 and 76.
Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland, 1855-1858: Ennistimon Union, 60 (Ballykeel South).
Parliamentary Papers, Return of the names of proprietors and area and valuation of properties in counties in Ireland, held in fee or perpetuity or long leases at chief rents, 1876. (412) LXXX. 395: 148.
Parliamentary Papers, Return of the names of proprietors and area and valuation of properties in counties in Ireland, held in fee or perpetuity or long leases at chief rents, 1876. (412) LXXX. 395: 148.
Parliamentary Papers, Return of the names of owners of land of one acre and upwards, in the several counties … in Ireland. HC 1876, LXXX: 294.
1901 census returns, Co Clare.
Henry Thoreau, Cape Cod.
National University of Ireland Galway, Landed Estates Database, Comerford:
Patrick Comerford, visit to Kinvara, Co Galway, 13.11.2009.
Patrick Comerford, visits to Comerford House and Galway City, latest visit 13-14.11.2009.
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