Patrick Comerford, who first saw the light in Waterford in 1586 - that
is, two years before the birth of his friend and cousin, Luke Wadding -
was son of Robert Comerford and his wife, Anastasia White. The
Comerfords, like the Waddings, the Walshes, and the Lombards, were of
the opulent merchant class, noted, like the three families just named,
for steadfast fidelity to the ancient faith, and as harbourers, like
them, of hunted priests and harassed friars. The
White’s were really Clonmel people, closely connected, however with
Comerford’s brother was the noted Jesuit scholar, Father Nicholas
Comerford, who, having graduated at Oxford in 1562, returned to
Waterford, and there received Holy Orders.
Driven from his benefice in the city for non-conformity,
Nicholas, like many another persecuted Irish priest of the period,
retired to Louvain, and there he took out his Doctorate in 1575.
From Louvain he proceeded to Madrid, where he became a Jesuit and
eventually found a grave. Nicholas
Comerford was accounted one of the most accomplished scholars of his
time, and, though he died comparatively young, he appears to have
written extensively on philosophical and controversial subjects.
Patrick Comerford received his rudimentary classical training from an
outlawed priest, one Dermot O’Callaghan, whom his good mother
sheltered and otherwise befriended. It
was under Father O’Callaghan’s care that, some years later, the
youth travelled to the Continent to enter the Irish secular College at
Lisbon. First, however, young
Comerford had graduated at Peter White’s seminary in Kilkenny, where
he had as school-fellows and rivals for academic honours such future
scholars as Luke Wadding, and Richard Stanihurst. During
Patrick’s time in Kilkenny his father died, and then Mistress
Comerford, like so many poor Irish mothers of her station in the Penal
days, made the sacrifice of her human, to her spiritual, love for her
boy. She sent him across the seas
with Dermot O’Callaghan, partly that he might receive, in a foreign
land, the education denied him in his own.
How long Comerford remained at Lisbon we do not know; neither do we know
exactly what year he entered Bordeaux, and again exact dates are
wanting. Later, having meantime
visited Ireland, which was easy of access from Bordeaux, young Comerford
returned to Lisbon, and in that city entered the Novitiate of the
Augustinian Hermits, whither another Waterford man, Richard Wadding, a
brother of Luke’s, had preceded him. Wadding,
by the way, though scarcely anything has been written about him, rose to
eminence in the Order, and, like so many ecclesiastics of his name, left
a considerable reputation for learning. We
next hear of Comerford at Angra in the Azores, where, for four years, he
taught rhetoric in the college of his Order.
Thence he was recalled to read divinity at Lisbon, in which city
he received ordination. Subsequently
we find him teaching philosophy at Brussels, where, moreover, he had
attained some fame as a poet and a preacher.
or about 1619 Comerford, better known by his religious name of Patricius
de Angelis, was sent by his
superiors as a missioner to Ireland, where the Pope had specially
nominated him perpetual Prior of Callan.
The priory was in ruin, and the brethren
were dispersed through the country round about.
A religious community, however,
does not depend for its life on the co-existence of monastic buildings
Father Patrick gathered the scattered members together within
sight of their ancient home, and
secured for them a temporary abode, where, for ten years, in
the worst of times, the outlawed friars feloniously kept their rule,
edifying and encouraging the
suffering people. One may wonder
how friars could have lived in community
in such times and have publicly followed their calling.
The explanation is, doubtless, that the Callan Community enjoyed
the protection of “Walter of the Rosaries” or of some other
member or branch of the Ormonde family. During
his tenure of office in Callan the Prior, we are told, occasionally
visited his friends in Waterford, to the great comfort of the latter and
the consolation of the citizens generally whom he was wont to address
and encourage. On the occasion of
one of these visits to the Urbs
Intacta, Father Patrick heard that, probably through one of the
Waterford mariners who sailed the Spanish Main, a brother of his own had
fallen into the hands of the
Algerines and was then held for ransom at Mogadore on the Barbary
coast. It may be necessary
to explain that, in the 17th century, raids by Moorish
corsairs on the Irish coasts were not infrequent. More
than one Waterford-bound ship was captured and their crews and
passengers sold into slavery or held for ransom
by the infidels. Father Patrick
set out at once for Spain to secure his brother’s release.
This he had little difficulty in doing, thanks to funds furnished
by his friends in Waterford, and to the good offices of the Trinitarian
Order for the redemption of captives. Alas,
the brothers’ happiness was but short-lived, for the ex-captive,
presumably as a result of the hardships endured in captivity, survived
his release only a very short time, to find rest at last in a foreign
From Spain Comerford travelled to Rome, where some business of his Order
demanded his presence. At Rome it
is intimated to him that Urban VIII, then occupying the Papal chair, had
destined him for the vacant See of Waterford and Lismore.
The last bishop of Waterford, Patrick Walsh, of dubious memory,
had died more than half a century before, in the middle of Elizabeth’s
reign. In the interval the
diocese had been governed by vicars: John White first, then his brother
James, who reconciled the Waterford churches on the death of Elizabeth,
then Thomas Walsh, who became Archbishop of Cashel, and, finally, Robert
Power of the Curraghmore family. A
Cistercian monk, Nicholas Fagan of Inislaunaght, had been named for the
see before Comerford, but he died without consecration.
One of the most deplorable results of the Penal code and the weakening
of ecclesiastical authority which followed was a general loosening of
discipline, hence arose many serious abuses within the Church as well as
some grievous scandals. Waterford
Diocese, when Bishop Comerford was consecrated, had its share both of
abuses and of scandals. The new
Bishop was, fortunately, a strong man-no less morally than physically.
He was of great stature, of imposing presence, and of refined and
noble bearing; his intellectual was on a par with his physical
equipment: firm will, sound judgement, prudence in counsel and in
action. He was, in addition, an
eloquent preacher, an elegant writer, and a ready conversationalist.
Among his domestic difficulties were some controversies with
certain religious within his diocese. The
Cistercians in Waterford had un-canonically seized on certain churches,
scil: St. John’s and Mothel, and, no doubt, they were quite convinced
of their rights thereto. We do
not now know on what grounds they based their claims, but we make take
it the latter seemed valid, to them. We
do know, however, what good people are sometimes like when they are in
the wrong and think themselves in the right.
Our Cistercians were in the wrong, but were unaware of their
position, and they caused the bishop much worry, before he convinced
them of their error. A
second source of what I may call domestic worry was furnished by the
Franciscans, or, rather, by their local Superior in Waterford, Father
Strong, who was a cousin of Wadding’s and a very wrong-headed, though
well-meaning man. The
bishop successfully overcame the opposition from these and other
sources. Access to his
Cathedral, or even to the meanest parish church in his diocese, was out
of the question. Both Cathedral
and churches were all in the hands of the Protestant bishop, Boyle, a
hater and bitter persecutor of the Catholics.
Boyle died in 1635, only to be succeeded by the equally bitter
Atherton of infamous memory.
Notwithstanding the times and their perils, our bishop held ordinations,
confirmations, and even synods of
the clergy. Most of the episcopal
functions, however, had to be performed
by night or in secluded places. Like
other Irish bishops of the period, he was obliged to assume an alias and
to date his letters “ex loce refugii nostri.”
His assumed name was
generally “William Browne,” but occasionally he appears as
“William Poore.” His
contemporary, Bishop Roche of Ferns, signs himself, “J. K. Turner.”
In the Franciscan archives, Dublin, by the way, are many
unpublished letters of both bishops so signed.
One letter of Dr. Roche’s to Luke Wadding I venture to quote
here, as well because it bears on our subject, as because it has, I
assume, never been published, and because it illustrates the
difficulties of administration with which Dr. Comerford had to contend.
“Your friend Comerford of Waterford is an honest man, and if any
should report ye contray to you, suspend to believe any whit than well
of him. He has entered into a
charge where every body did what it pleased himself hitherto and now yt
ye good man would faine give a forme or face to ye confused
administration wch was heretofore he indureth much contradiction from
such as ought to assist him and I am sorry yt I must depose of our Fr.
Strong yt he is a party against him and generally held in this land to
be the maine stickler aginst ordinary jurisdiction and yet him self
asserteth the charge of ordinary beyond many others, as is sayed of him.
I doubt not but yt tou have heard how Waterford is vexed by
Cistercians and a pretende chaplain of Malta in all wh Fr. Th. Strong
has his oare.
ye 6 of January, 1630.
Yor Loving Cossin,
J. K. TURNER.”
A brighter day dawned for Ireland and the Irish Church when in 1641 the
prelates, peers, and people of
Ireland bound themselves by solemn oath, at Kilkenny, to take up
arms in defence of their religion, and never to sheath the sword till
liberty of worship was secured.
Of all the bishops who took part in the Confederate
deliberations, Comerford was one of three or four most unflinching and
faithful. He was, perhaps, the
staunchest of all the Nuncio’s supporters, and of all the cities that
Rinuccini visited he admired Waterford most.
At the door of the ancient Cathedral, now for a few years in
Catholic hands again, His Excellency was met by the bishop, who, with
full ceremonial, conducted him to the appointed throne.
The function was, we are told by the Nuncio himself, of the most
imposing and solemn character; so strictly rubrical was the celebration,
that even the fastidious Nuncio, accustomed to all the splendour and
accuracy of Roman ceremonial, was both delighted and surprised.
It was on this occasion that the Papal representative styled
Waterford “A Little Rome” (Parva Roma), a title as honourable at
least as Henry VII’s “Urbs Intacta.”
Comerford’s first and principal care was the spiritual well-being of
his flock, and though this, under the circumstances of the time, was no
ordinary obligation, and though, too, the meetings of the Confederate
Parliament occupied much of his time, our prelate yet managed to write a
book on polemical theology, and to complete lists of the patron saints
of the diocese and the Deans of the Cathedral.
Whether any of these or other works of Comerford, still exist,
the writer cannot say. It
is amongst the possibilities that some day some of them may again come
At length, alas, dawned the evil day when foul dissension arose to mar
the Catholic cause and to smite more fatally than Cromwell’s sword,
the high hopes of Ireland. Briefly
stated, the case and cause was this: The Confederation was composed of
two elements, difficult to
amalgamate and to some extent mutually jealous and suspicious: the old
or native Irish and the new Irish or Catholics of the Pale.
“Nathless their creed they hate us still as the Despoiler
hates” was the feeling of the old Irish, and the other
side was equally distrustful. The
Anglo-Irish party was not averse to a peace, which
the Nuncio condemned because it did not provide sufficient security for
freedom of religion. On
Rinuccinni’s side were the majority of the bishops, the Religious
Orders (except the Jesuits), and the Ulster army of Owen Roe O’Neill.
In the opposition camp were the Pales-men and new Irish, with the
usual small following of weak-kneed natives.
The Nuncio summoned a synod at Waterford to consider the
situation. He chose Waterford as
the meeting place, first, because it was the most Catholic city in
Ireland; second, because its bishop was the man upon whom he could best
rely in difficulty; third, because the fort of Duncannon, with its
trustworthy Catholic garrison, was close at hand, and, last, because its
magnificent harbour afforded means of swift and sure communication with
the Continent. To shorten as
much as possible a long story, the synod declared that all who should
favour the obnoxious peace were perjurers and excommunicate.
Somewhat later, the Nuncio pronounced excommunication against all
bishops, clergy, or laity who accepted the peace, and moreover, laid the
whole country under interdict to punish the advocates
of Ormonde’s terms. During the
few months immediately following the synod of Waterford, the Nuncio
resided almost constantly in the latter city.
He was the guest of the princely bishop, who entertained him with
lavish hospitality. Together they
paid many a visit to Duncannon, and spent many an hour scanning the
opening between Credan Head and Hook for glimpse of the expected ship
which was to bring money, munitions of war, and further instructions
far from securing the object desired, the Nuncio’s strong measures
only deepened the dissentions. Canonists,
amateur and otherwise, pronounced the censures invalid; some places
observed the interdict, others treated it with contempt.
The bishop of Waterford was, perhaps, of all the prelates, the
most devoted to the Nuncio’s policy, most faithful to his orders, and
most scrupulous in obeying the interdict.
The interdict, indeed, was felt an almost insupportable burden:
Mass was not said, bells were not rung, and sacraments were administered
only to the dying. Though
Waterford obeyed the interdict, the clergy petitioned for its removal.
A meeting of the city deanery was held in the Cathedral on
November 12th, 1648, at which was drawn up a resolution or
petition to the Nuncio for withdrawal of the terrible censures.
We have still the list of signatories, which includes the bishop;
Father Peter Stronge, Superior of the Dominicans of Waterford; Father
Joseph Everard, Guardian of the Franciscans; Father John Hartry,
Cistercian and Notary Apostolic; Edward Clere, Rector of the Jesuit
House; Father Michael Barron, Prior of the Augustines; Robert Power,
Dean of Waterford; Father Michael Hackett, the precentor.
The Deanery of Clonmel similarly expostulated, the petition
thence being signed by Thomas White, Pastor of Clonmel; Father Edward
Bray, Franciscan; Re. Thomas Prendergast, S.T.D.; Father Edmund Brayns,
Franciscan, and Fathers John Gough, William McGrath, and and
Andrew Sall, Jesuits of Clonmel. One
might expect Geoffrey Keating’s name in this list, but it does not
occur; aliunde, however, we know that Keating was a staunch adherent of our bishop’s policy, and the
last product of his pen which has survived, is a poetic appeal to his
countrymen to reject the peace of Ormonde.
That section of the Supreme Council that disagreed with the Nuncio,
deprived our bishop of the little that remained to him of the
temporalities of his See. An
attempt was even made to seize his person, but he retired within the
walls of Duncannon till that danger had passed.
Then, in a few months, came Cromwell before the walls of
Waterford. The story of the
city’s gallant defence and the citizen’s refusal to accept aid from
the excommunicated troops of Ormonde will some day be told in full; the
present is not the place to attempt it. Suffice
it to say, Cromwell failed at Waterford, and during the siege the
venerable bishop remained with his people in the city encouraging,
exhorting, and administering to the dying.
When, later on, Waterford surrendered to Ireton, the bishop
embarked for St. Malo in August, 1650. Shaken
now in health, worn out by hardships and anxiety, heart-broken for the
woes of his country and the fate of
his people, the illustrious confessor of the faith survived
his exile but two years. He died
at Nantes on the 10th of March, 1652, aged 66, and was buried in the
cathedral there with all the honours
due to his personal worth and his episcopal rank.
Apropos of his death and
burial in a foreign land it was indeed remarked that if these had taken
place in his own city by the Suir, the dead prelate could hardly have
received more honour from his own people than came to him from
stranger’s hands in the capital of Brittany.
When Bishop Comerford’s grave, before the altar of St. Charles,
was opened, ten years later, to receive the bones of another exiled
Irish prelate, Robert Barry, of
Cork, the body was found quite intact and un-corrupt.
His grave, however, cannot
now be discovered wherein, far from the land he loved and served so
well, he awaits the resurrection.
On that day, when the crooked ways will be made straight, and all
who bore persecution and mis-representation, as he did, for justice
sake, will be vindicated, his place
will be with Declan and Carthage and Colman, among the hosts of the
saints of the Decies.
Extracted, in part from Canon
Power's Waterford's Saints & Scholars, Printed by the
Waterford News, Ltd., 1920 and from Rev. Joseph O'Shea's life of Father