Máire Comerford was born on 29 June 1893 in Rathdrum, County Wicklow. She was educated privately at home but with a downturn in the family’s fortune, she was sent to London to receive an education as a secretary and earn a living. It was whilst in London, Comerford became interested in the cause of Irish independence. On her return to Ireland she became involved with the Society of United Irishwomen, which later became the Irish Countrywomen’s Association.
During the 1916 Easter Rising, she happened to be in Dublin visiting relatives where she witnessed the conflict and destruction of the city. This had a profound effect on her and she joined the Wexford branch of Sinn Féin not long afterwards in 1916. In her unpublished memoir, Comerford dedicated a chapter to the ‘Rising’. She gives great insight in to how the news of the rebellion was travelling around the city and the belief the Volunteers in St Stephen’s Green had in their cause.
Comerford then joined Cumann na mBan in 1917 and moved to Dublin soon afterwards to become secretary to the historian and nationalist, Alice Stopford Green. Whilst in Dublin she met many of the well-known names involved in the fight for Irish freedom, including Thomas Ashe. Below Comerford describes the lengths she, her friend, Aileen Keogh, and her brother, Sandy, went to to attend the funeral of Ashe in Dublin.
Comerford campaigned for Sinn Fein in the 1918 General Election and travelled the country establishing and organising Cumann na mBan branches, while at the same time carrying dispatches for the IRA and reporting atrocities carried out by the Black and Tans. When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was being debated in the Dáil in 1922, Comerford was against it. She believed that the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read by Pádraig Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin in 1916, should be upheld. Therefore, during the battle of the Four Courts in June 1922, Comerford carried dispatches between the anti-treaty forces in the Four Courts and their comrades in the IRA Dublin Brigade. Comerford was arrested on several occasions for her involvement in anti-treaty activities and took part in hunger strikes while imprisoned in Mount Joy Jail and Kilmainham Jail in 1923.
An interesting chapter of her memoir is one entitled ‘Standards’. In it she discusses the role that public houses and drink played in the War of Independence. Officially banned by the Provisional Government, as all substances that paid a tax to Britain, she describes her and other’s shock and disillusionment at seeing their leaders and role models drinking in pubs. She writes also of her views on Arthur Griffith and discusses affairs in Dáil Éireann at the time such as the Belfast Boycott and the beginning of the Black and Tans’ retaliation to Irish activity.
Comerford discusses other interesting topics in her unpublished memoir. These include a chapter entitled ‘Conscription’ that talks of the founding of Sinn Féin in Courtown, and relates various republican activities including the arrival of a gun boat and how she was left to organise branches of Cumann na mBan around Wexford. Another is entitled ‘Bodenstown’ and tells of a republican march to Bodenstown churchyard to re-assert the principles of Wolfe Tone. She also describes a trip to Antrim when she accompanied Mrs. Stopford Green while visiting her friends Sydney and Gertrude Parry (Gertrude was a cousin of Roger Casement). She also recalls a trip to Derry and the uneasy atmosphere that pervaded the city.
Like the other collections featured in our Decade of Centenaries series, Máire Comerford’s gives a personal insight into her involvement in, feelings and thoughts on the fight for Irish Freedom. She was a fascinating and fierce woman who, in her own words, stated…
‘I was never a cog in the official government machine, nor a candidate to be a cog. The most I can claim is that I tried to be a small drop of oil helping to make things work’.
- This post was researched and written by Meadhbh Murphy, Archivist, UCD Archives.
** Update: Our colleagues in the National Folklore Collection have made us aware of amazing recordings of Máire Comerford reminiscing about her involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising. Listen to Máire here.