Z časopisu CÉIM 6. 7. 2014
The Uncrowned Queen of Irish Dancing – Céim Nr. 2
Lily was a Dublin girl whose father had a business premises at 32 Parnell Street. Born at the turn of the century, she started life when the resurgence of Irish culture was at its height. She learned the dancing at the Maxwell Brewer Academy of Irish Dancing, and the traditional set-dances from a good friend of An Coimisiun, Cormack O´Keeffe of Cork.
Out of her pure love for the children of Dublin – she was once one of them – she started to teach dancing to the local children once a fortnight at a penny a lesson. Small recompense for the tremendous work that she did; and the many successes that she has to her credit include the training of many champions like Rory O´Connor, the well-known teacher and adjudicator. Apart from the many other awards that came her way, the much coveted Feis Atha Cliath Shield was ten years in her possession.
At a time when Irish dancing was virtually unheard of outside our shores, Lily added glory to Ireland´s crown with her skilfully designed and wonderfully executed team dances in places like the Albert Hall and the London Palladium on several occasions.
In 1933 her team was invited to the famous Eisteddfod at Wrexham in Wales. It was this festival of music, song and dance that gave Lily the idea of forming the Irish Folk Deance Society. (There will be an article on this Society in the next issue of CEIM). This was to be a non-profitmaking organisation to develop and promote inherited folklore and to create a better understanding between the people of all nations through the medium of music, song and dance, and Lily Comerford´s name is synonymous with that of the Irish Folk Dance Society. In 1958 it was her great pleasure to be appointed Ireland´s representative in the Federation of International Folk Groups.
During a tour of Germany in the mid-thirties, Miss Comerford presneted one of her „spectaculars“ in Berlin and the organisers were so impresses by her reputation that they had invited several dignitaries of the Third Reich to be present. Their reports were so favourable that Miss Comerford and her troupe were asked to appear before the Fuhrer himself, Adolf Hitler. Whatever we may feel history later proved him to be, it was nevertheless a great honour for this most humble of people to be accorded the opportunity of presenting her work to the Head of State of so great a nation, who was so pleased with it that he presented her with the highest civilian decoration. Her troupe also appeared before, and she was presented to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.
But none of these great honours meant any more to „Poor old Comerford“ as she is affectionaly known, than the regard and esteem of her colleagues; a regard which is as alive today as it was during the years was working among them.
A woman with a great head for figures – dancing and otherwise – and one with a fantastic memory, it was nothing for her to remember the exact day of, say, September 28th, 1934. And she would be correct.
In her devotion to a cause – whether the issue was grave or small – she was an eloquent speaker and an untiring worker, and as everyone says of her, „she was as straight as a die“. When she wanted to say anything in discussion she would come straight to the point, and she had an unfailing talent for seeing the real point at issue, no matter how many arguments or counter – arguments were voiced, and where a principle was involved – whether it hurt others or, indeed, herself – she „stuck to her guns“ and invariably carried the day. She was, in fact, „right personified“. Though this steely quality in her made many afraid of Lily Comerford, the loved her for her „straightness“ – or perhaps in spite of it.
I think it fair to say that she never „told anybody off“ without a just cause and then her motto was „forgive and forget“. Another facet of her generous nature showed itself in her lavishing her own hard-earned money on the children whom she took on tour. Even when she was unable to go herself, she would give Mrs. Bux 100 GBP „just for some sweets and ices for the kids“.
She married Roy Thompson, a professional pianist, on August 20th 1945. And, in his own words, this made him „Mr. Comerford“. Their marriage was extremely happy and, to the end of her days – though his death preceded by several years – she referred to him as if he were still alive.
Lily Comerford became a legend in her own time, and a measure of her fame (which she herself would, of course, have decried immediately) was that letters addressed simply „Lily Comerford, Post Office, Dublin“ were delivered to her without delay.
Even on her death-bed Miss Comerford had the interests of Irish Dancing and the ways and means of promoting it at heart. This is best borne out by the the fact that mere hours before she died she insisted upon Tom Lawlor getting the „envelope of money on the top left hand shelf before the banks would close.“ It will bring a lump to many a throat when we recall how, even at that moment, neither her memory nor her indomitable will failed her. She asked Mrs. Bux to ring Seamus Mac Con Uladh and, as Mrs. Bux fumbled through the pages of the directory, she said. „What do you need to look it up for? The number is 313425.“
A short time later that very evening, 9th March 1969, Lily Comerford passed to her eternal reward. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.
After many most pleasant hours reminiscing – during which Tomas and his wife were able to reveal only a fraction of their knowledge of Lily – I went home, greatly enriched and delighted by this glimpse into the life of the legendary Lily Comerford.
Mrs, Bux, now the Treasurer of the Irish Folk Dance Society, and her family have been members of the Society for the past twenty years, and in the latter years of Miss Comerford´s life she made her home with them.