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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Marie Comerford

Obituary

By Michael Purcell

Submitted to Nationalist , December 1982


Marie Comerford who died on December 15 1982 aged 92.

Source: Carloviana 1983. Vol 2. No. 31 p.7.

During one visit to Marie's home, I held an original copy of the "1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic" in one hand and her grandfather's Victoria Cross in the other, she was proud of both items and in a surreal way so was I . Many of the people (i.e. Eamonn Ceannt, Cathal Burgha, May Gibney et al ) mentioned in the 1922 reports are "googleable" therefore I do not elaborate on their role or background (in other words I encourage you to do your own research!). Note added by Michael Purcell 2010

Obituary submitted to Nationalist , December 1982.
By Michael Purcell

Veteran Republican, journalist and author, Marie Comerford, who died on Wednesday, December 15th, aged 92, at St. Nessan's, her Dublin home, was due to spend Christmas in Carlow.

Esther Purcell, Kennedy Street, Marie's former Kilmainham prison-mate during the Civil War, received a letter from Marie accepting an invitation to stay at the Purcell home for Christmas. Ironically the letter arrived after the news of her death was broadcast on the Radio Eireann 9 a.m. news. Marie had recently presented a portrait of Kevin Barry and a wooden travel trunk (with a secret compartment, used for hiding documents and a weapon) which had belonged to Eamonn Ceannt to Mrs Purcell, who in turn presented it to Carlow County Museum. Miss Comerford was born in Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, her mother Eva Esmonde was lady tennis champion of Ireland for three years, her father, James Comerford, a miller in Rathdrum, was a friend of Charles Stewart Parnell.

Her grandfather, Thomas Esmonde, served in the Crimean War and was the first British officer to enter Sebastopol after the siege. Captain Esmonde was awarded the Victoria Cross and later became Deputy Chief Inspector of the Irish Royal Constabulary. Marie always laughingly claimed that the Esmondes were a "minor tier of the Anglo-Irish Catholic aristocracy".

She became a Republican propagandist during the Anglo-Irish War, a position which she never quite relinquished. In 1918 she was sent to regulate the Cumann na mBan organisation in Carlow.

During this period she was "on the run" and stayed in the home of the Snoddy family in Blackbog, Carlow. In 1920 she became private secretary to the historian Alice Stopford Green, and was appointed to the General Council of the White Cross. This work facilitated her in her other role as a trusted courier for Michael Collins in the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Marie was a regular visitor to Carlow during the Irish-Anglo War 1919-1921 , where she sheltered in Duckett's Grove, later she was in charge of a Cumann na mBan unit who looked after the upkeep of the Duckett mansion when it was occupied by the National Army before "the Split". Marie opposed the Treaty.

At the outbreak of the Civil War she reported to the Four Courts garrison in Dublin, opened a first-aid station and riding her bicycle along the bullet-swept streets and quays kept communication open between the Four Courts and the IRA Headquarters where de Valera was stationed, he had re-enlisted as a private in the Third Battalion of The Irish Volunteers (called "Dev's Own").

She later joined the O'Connell Street garrison and was there when Cathal Brugha walked out the door of the Hammam Hotel, a revolver in each hand raised against the levelled rifles of the Free State troops, Brugha, rushed forward, firing, and fell amid a volley of shots. Marie rushed to his side and held a severed artery until medical attention arrived. Two days later he died. One time on a mission in Wexford she encountered the Free State Army, they shot at her on her motorbike, later she wrote, "shot through the hat, drove through and delivered the stuff".

After the Civil War --or "Counter Revolution" as she insisted on calling it ---de Valera sent her to America, in November 1923, travelling under the name of " Edith Lewis", to raise funds. Life was hard for her on her return to Ireland as she refused to sign an oath of allegiance to King George, she was unable to work in the Civil service. For years she eked out an existence on a chicken farm in Wexford. She joined the staff of the Irish Press in 1935 where she edited the Woman's Page, six days a week for about 30 years. She ended formal ties with the Republican movement in 1941, in protest at the Stephen Hayes affair. Hayes, the then Chief of Staff, was forced to sign a "confession " admitting treachery. Marie always maintained Haye's innocence and regretted that his name had not been cleared. In 1969 she published her book "The First Dail" which today is indispensable to historians. Michael Purcell who attended Marie's funeral told "The Nationalist" in a statement:"

Marie Comerford will undoubtedly be remembered as a woman with an unquenchable thirst for the cause of Irish freedom and as a chronicler of the important events of Ireland's struggle for independence. But there was another side of Marie's character that the general public was unaware of and that was her generosity and hospitality. I often visited her at her home in Sandyford, where she held court as the grand old lady of Irish Republicanism, and where she made her vast and valuable archive available for research. Her home was crammed with mementos of Ireland's troubled past. Marie engrossed her listeners with stories of stirring episodes that she had been involved in.

Aided by her facility with words, her sometimes humorous observations and her meticulous attention to detail, students and researchers always left her company feeling they had gained an insight into the characters and events that formed our history. She could give personal pen pictures of the members of the First Dail. In old age her mature enthusiasm, energy and refusal to be daunted inspired many". Speaking of her recent presentations to Carlow, Mr. Purcell added , "I know that had she lived she would have donated many more items of historical interest to Carlow Museum, indeed she had agreed to meet myself and local photographer Rory Moran on a date in January 1983 to make another presentation".

A prolific letter writer and alert to the end, an unfinished letter to The Irish Times in support of the H-Block hunger strike was found on her typewriter at the time of her death. One of last letters she had published in The Irish Times stated : The Churches have played a part in the despoliation of Ireland. I appeal to them to make amends to the Irish people , and to provide an example of Christian living, by giving up their wealth, and by joining together in unity.

Marie was buried under a tree on a hillside, in a farmer's field, beside her lifelong republican friend, Father John F. Sweetman, O.S.B. overlooking Mount St. Benidict, outside Gorey. Cumann na mBan and Fianna Eireann provided a guard of honour. Fintan Vallelly played "Boolavogue" on the flute while Padraig O' Gallachoir recited Padraig Pearse's " Caoimne Bean an tShleibhe".

Sinn Fein Northern Ireland Assembly member Danny Morrison delivering the oration, said that Marie Comerford was a rebel stretching from the days of Easter Week 1916 through the Tan War and Civil War to the struggles in Northern Ireland today to rid Ireland of British rule. Among those who attended were , Rita O' Hare, Daithi O' Conaill and Joe Cahill of Provisional Sinn Fein, and many Old IRA veterans.

Among the wreaths was one from Mr. Charles J. Haughey, T.D. leader of Fianna Fail.

The Kevin Barry Portrait and Eamonn Ceannt's trunk were presented to Esther Purcell by inveterate republican Marie Comerford. Mrs. Purcell had accepted the items on behalf of Carlow Museum and they were officially handed over during the special Irish night. Pictured at the historic renewal of the 1899 resolution supporting the aims of Comradh na Gaeilge were:
(Left to right) Miceal O Puirseal, Padraigh O Snodaigh, Bride de Poiste, Alec Burns,
Kevin Kennedy, Pat Purcell, Cecil Whelan (Club Chairman)
(Front) Sean Donnelly (hon. Sec.) Seamas Mac Pairc

Photo by Rory Moran

Source: Carloviana 1983. Vol 2. No. 31 p.6


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