Tuesday 30 June 2009

Comerford Profiles 19: Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921), stuccodore and trade unionist

19.1: Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921)

Patrick Comerford

I never knew either of my grandfathers, nor did I have Comerford first cousins. Family traditions were handed on by a widowed and a maiden aunt, two half-sisters who lived in my grandmother’s house in Terenure in southside Dublin. But I was an adult before I first saw a photograph of my paternal grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford. He died shortly after my father’s second birthday, and so I never knew what my grandfather looked like, and I could never answer that very Irish question: “Where was your grandfather in 1916?”

When I set out to find out more about him – and where he was in 1916 – I discovered the tragic story of his lonely death in 1921. He was then living in Rathmines in suburban south Dublin, and he was buried in Saint Catherine’s churchyard in Portrane, Co Dublin, close to his in-laws, the Lynders family.

19.2: The house at 7 Redmond’s Hill, where Stephen Comerford was born in 1867 is long gone … the site is marked by the line of trees on the left (east) side of the street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Stephen was born at 7 Redmond’s Hill, between Camden Street and Aungier Street, Dublin, on 28 December 1867, and baptised soon after in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row (sponsors: Thomas Roche, Margaret Dowdall).

19.3: The baptismal font in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, where Stephen Comerford and some of his children were baptised ... the font was a gift to the church from Daniel O’Connell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Stephen was the fourth son and fifth and youngest child of James Comerford (ca 1817-1902) [See Comerford Profiles 18, James Comerford], an arts-and-crafts stuccodore and architect from Bunclody, Co Wexford, whose works included the design of the Irish House on the corner of Wood Quay and Winetavern Street, and the Oarsman in Ringsend.

19.4: Stephen Comerford’s signature when he was apprenticed to his father on 23 June 1888 (Comerford family collection)

In 1884, at the age of 16, Stephen was apprenticed to his father “to learn his Art” for seven years, and they soon became involved in turning the plasterers’ guild into a trade union.

19.5: Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin ... Stephen Comerford was baptised and married in this church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Trade union records, census returns, street directories and family records made it possible to track the houses where Stephen had lived, including 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, where his father, James Comerford, died in 1902 at 85. A year later, in 1903, Stephen’s young wife, Anne (née Cullen) died in the same house at the age of 32.

19.6: The hospital in Portrane, where Stephen Comerford worked on George Ashlin’s new chapel and hospital in the early 1900s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

As a widower with three small children under the age of three, Stephen commuted between Ranelagh in suburban south Dublin and Portrane, in rural north-east county Dublin, where he stayed with the Lynders family while working on the interior design and decoration of George Ashlin’s new hospital and chapel in Portrane and the new church being built in Donabate in the opening years of the 20th century.

19.7: The Quay House, Portrane ... Stephen Comerford was staying here when he met Bridget Lynders, and they were married from this house on 7 February 1905 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

While staying with the Lynders family at the Quay House in Portrane, Stephen fell in love again. He married my grandmother, Bridget Lynders, in Saint Patrick’s, the newly-built parish church in Donabate in 1905, and they had more children.

However, the gap in Stephen’s life between 1915 and early 1918 remained. His early death, and the family silence surrounding those years and that death, left with no clues about that crucial gap, including 1916. Then, in an idle moment during an internet search for the war-time records of another family member, I keyed in my grandfather’s name. The missing story unfolded.

A stuccordore’s work

Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921), the youngest son of James Comerford (ca 1816/1817-1902), was born at 7 Redmond’s Hill, Dublin, on 28 December 1867, and baptised a few days later in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row (sponsors: Thomas Roche and Margaret Dowdall). At the age of 16, Stephen Comerford was apprenticed to his father, James Comerford, Operative Plasterer of the City of Dublin, “to learn his Art” from 1 June 1884 for seven years, according to an indenture dated 23 June 1888, signed by James Comerford and Stephen Comerford and witnessed by John Hartigan and Isaac Hill.

19.8: Stephen Comerford’s signature when he was apprenticed to his father on 23 June 1888 (Comerford family collection)

A stucco plasterer, he worked on many of George Ashlin’s Dublin churches and on Ashlin’s hospital in Portrane. He was a member of the Society of Stucco Plasterers of Dublin and a founding member and member of the council of the Regular Stucco Plasterers’ Trade Union of the City of Dublin in 1893. He was the Dublin branch secretary of the union in 1899, when the union organised a Parnell commemoration demonstration, and in 1902, when he took part in an Irish-language demonstration. In 1903, the union changed its name to the Operative Plasterers’ Trade Society of Dublin.

The census returns for both 1901 and 1911 show that Stephen could read, write and speak Irish and English.

19.9: No 2 Old Mountpleasant, Ranelagh ... Stephen Comerford lived here in the first two decades of the 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Stephen lived at 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh (1899), 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue (1900-1905), 2 Mountpleasant Villas (1905-post 1907), 102 South Lotts Road, Ringsend (ca 1909), and at 2 Old Mountpleasant (ca 1909-1913, a house now incorporated in ‘The Hill,’ Ranelagh. He appears on the 1913 Electoral Roll as a qualified voter as an inhabitant and ratepayer living at 2 Old Mountpleasant. He then lived at 7 Swanville Place, Rathmines, Dublin, from 1913 until his death in 1921.

19.10: No 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh ... Stephen Comerford was living here at the beginning of the 20th century, and his Anne (Cullen) Comerford died here on 16 November 1903 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2004)

War and malaria in Thessaloniki

Stephen Comerford joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – “the Toffs and the Toughs”– on 14 July 1915. Within days, as a private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he was sent to the Greek island of Lemnos and on to Gallipoli and Suvla Bay. He was among the few survivors evacuated to Thessaloniki. In the severe Greek winter, many of them suffered frostbite, dysentery and other sicknesses.

19.11: The Liberation of Thessaloniki in October 1912 ... Stephen Comerford was stationed here before being discharged on medical grounds in 1916

In the summer’s heat of 1916, more came down with malaria and were evacuated from Thessaloniki. Stephen was discharged on 3 May 1916, three days after the Easter Rising ended, and sent back to Dublin.

19.12: The medals Stephen Comerford was decorated with during World War I

His records give his regimental number as 9062, and the theatre of war is which he first served as (2B) Balkans. His medals were:

● Victory, Roll B/101 B2, p. 131;

● British, Roll B/101 B2, p. 131;

● 1914-1915 Star, Roll B/10B, p. B81.

[For Stephen Comerford’s wartime story see: Wearing a poppy so my grandfather’s story might not be lost]

19.13: No 7 Swanville Place, Rathmines ... Stephen Edward Comerford (1918-2004) was born here in 1918 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Malaria was life-threatening but life-saving – for a few months at least. The war ended on 11 November 1918 and a month later, on 14 December 1918, his youngest child – my father Stephen Edward Comerford – was born in Rathmines. But his health continued to deteriorate, no more children were born, and he died alone in hospital at the age of 53.

Marriage and children

Stephen Comerford was first married in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin, on 29 November 1899, to Anne Cullen (1871-1903), of 11 Merrion Square, Dublin (the home of Sir Edward Hudson Hudson-Kinahan), daughter of Thomas Cullen, of Clanbrassil Street, salesman.

19.14: No 11 Merrion Square, Dublin ... Anne Cullen was living here in 1899 when she married Stephen Comerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2008)

Stephen and Anne Comerford had three children:

1, Edmond Joseph Comerford (1900-1905). He was born at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin on 30 October 1900, and was baptised a few days later in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row (sponsors: Michael Heffernan and Elizabeth Carey). He died on 24 August 1905 in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother Anne (Cullen) Comerford, who had died in 1903, and his grandfather Thomas Cullen, who died in 1871. Neither Edmond's name, nor that of his mother are included on the headstone.
2, Mary (May) Josephine (1902-1973). She was born in 1902 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, and was baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. She married John Leonard (Sean O Lionnain) (1876-1959), of Convabeg, Ballyhooley, Mallow, Co Cork. He was born John Leonard in 1876, son of Michael Leonard and Mary Anne McCarthy of Ballyellis, Mallow Co Cork. His family owned Leonard’s Bar in Ballyhooly (now Grindels). He had moved to London by 1901, and he married his first wife, Mary J Ward (Máire Nic a Báird), in Fulham in 1911. She died in 1934. He married May Comerford in 1939. He died on 25 December 1959. They had no children, and May later lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, with her half-brother Patrick and half-sister Margaret. She died on 24 September 1973 and is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.
3, Arthur James Comerford (1903-1987). He was born on 26 October 1903. In 1911, he was living at The Quay, Portrane, with his stepmother’s mother, Margaret Lynders, who described him as her grandson. He first worked for Arthur Guinness and Son. From 1926, he was the clerk of the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar. He was awarded the Papal Medal Bene Merenti in 1973. He lived at 38 Rathgar Road, Dublin 6. In 1931, he married Kathleen Miller. Kathleen died on 27 November 1975, and Arthur died on 12 December 1987. They had no children and are buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.

19.15: Arthur James Comerford (1903-1987) lived at 38 Rathgar Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2006)

Anne (Cullen) Comerford died at the age of 32 on 16 November 1903 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue.

19.16: Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate ... Stephen Comerford and Bridget Lynders were married here on 7 February 1905 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

Stephen Comerford married secondly, on 7 February 1905, in Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate, Bridget Lynders (born 18 April 1875, died 25 March 1948), daughter of Patrick and Margaret (McMahon) Lynders of The Quay House, Portrane, Co Dublin.

19.17: Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford on their wedding day in Donabate in 1905 (Comerford family collection)

Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford had three sons and a daughter:

4, Patrick Thomas Comerford (1907-1971), born at 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh, on 24 November 1907. He lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, Dublin 6. He died unmarried on 22 April 1971, and is buried with his parents in Portrane, Co Dublin.
5, Robert Anthony (‘Bob’) Comerford (1909-1953), born at 102 South Lotts Road, Ringsend, Dublin, on 28 December 1909. A civil servant, he lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure. He was unmarried. He died in the Meath Hospital, Dublin, three hours after a motor accident in Leinster Road, Rathmines, on 10 August 1953. He is buried with his parents in Portrane.
6, Margaret (1912-1995), born at 2 Old Mountpleasant on 22 April 1912. She lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, Dublin 6W. She died unmarried on 14 February 1995 and is buried with her half-sister Mary in Dean’s GrangeCemetery.
7, Stephen Edward Comerford (1918-2004), my father. He lived at 83 Rathfarnham Wood, Dublin 14, and had six children (five of whom are surviving), and ten grandchildren (nine surviving).

19.18: Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford are buried in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, Portrane; behind is the grave of her parents, Patrick and Margaret (McMahon) Lynders (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

My grandfather, Stephen Comerford, died in hospital on 21 January 1921. He was buried in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, the old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane, close to other members of the Lynders family. His gravestone incorrectly gives his age at death as 49.

19.19: No 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure ... Bridget (Lynders) Comerford moved here in the mid-1930s, and it remained the Comerford family home for 60 years until Margaret Comerford died in 1995 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

A widow’s life

Stephen Comerford’s widow, Bridget (Lynders) Comerford, continued to live at 7 Swanville Place until ca 1935. She then moved to 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, and in the 1940s worked as private secretary to William Norton (1900-1963), leader of the Irish Labour Party (1932-1960) and secretary of the Post Office Workers’ Union (1924-1948). She died at her home in Terenure on 25 March 1948, seven weeks after Norton became Tanaiste in the first Inter-Party Government. She was buried with her husband in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, Portrane.

My father was the only one of Stephen Comerford’s seven children to have children himself. So malaria saved my grandfather’s life, however briefly, and ensured that he had grandchildren. His only reward was those three war medals – but even these were lost in the various family moves between Rathmines, Terenure and Rathfarnham. His lonely hospital death was filled with sadness, typifying how those soldiers were forgotten by those who sent them to war and their stories not handed on in their families.

I have worked and travelled throughout Greece and Turkey. But I never realised that my father might never been born – and I might never have been born – had my grandfather not been there, contracted malaria and been sent home from Thessaloniki in 1916.

© Patrick Comerford, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016. Last updated 23 October 2009, 16 March 2010, 24 May 2010, 4 September 2010; 27 April 2011; 2 May 2011; 16 April 2013; 24 July 2013; 25 April 2016.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Have just stumbled across this.

Sean O'Lionainn was actually born John Leonard in 1876, son of Michael Leonard and Mary Anne McCarthy.

He was the brother of my grandfather, William Patrick Leonard. The family owned Leaonard's Bar in Ballyhooly (now Grindels)