via MASHONALAND IRISH ASSOCIATION, HARARE, ZIMBABWE, St Patrick’s Day 1993 by Michelle Clarke

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Article by Eugene Garrihy: Judge Michael Comyn submitted to Clare Journal 2010

Thank you Eugene for this most interesting piece about my Grandfather, who I never met but have access to much information in the archives about him.  You met with me and Kevin many years ago now but thankfully the computer has kept this file and I now am uploading it to WordPress.  Time passes on and in 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer so I decided to write a book about illness over a period of 25+ years.

Michelle Marcella Clarke



Judge Michael Comyn.



My father Jack Garrihy who was born on 11th November 1920, passed away on February 25th 2007, aged 86 years.  In 1932 he was fishing The Aille River at Toomullin in Doolin, when an “important looking man” approached him and introduced himself as Michael Comyn.  He told Jack that he was opening a Phosphate mine in the area and asked Jack for local information on the immediate area.  Jack spoke with him for some time and had fond memories of that meeting. Jack offered him a couple of trout and Michael gave him two shillings and six pence in return.  Jack got to know him in later life and the following is a brief summary of Michael Comyn’s life.

Judge Comyn as he would become known was a Clare man who little has been written about from a North Clare perspective.  He is buried at Bishops Quarter Cemetery very close to where he was born in this beautiful part of North Clare.

Michael Comyn was born in Ballyvaughan in 1870.  He was 10 years old when his family were evicted from their home in Ballyvaughan.  His nephew James Comyn in his book “Their Friends at Court” recalls some of Michael’s stories of when he lived in Ballyvaughan.  Michael remembered sheep being washed in the sea.  They were thrown in one by one at the old pier at Clareville and allowed to swim ashore.  The reason for this was to clean the wool before sheering and sale.  He remembers crossing the bay to Galway with wool for sale at the markets.  He remembers at certain spring tides when the bladder weed was exposed, men and women went out to cut the seaweed and used it to fertilise the over cropped and exhausted fields.  He recalled that in the winter and summer of 1879 the final troubles developed for the Comyn family.  The crops were poor, the season bad, the sheep died in their hundreds and distress came to the valley around Ballyvaughan.  As mentioned eviction followed and he recalled in one day 800 people left Ballyvaughan by ship for free emigration to Australia. Michael and his family were lucky to have an outside farm about 15 miles away and Michael got a place in the National School in Ruan where the headmaster there was Mr Hugh Brady.

Mr Brady had a reputation as a teacher who prepared students for careers in the civil service in Ireland and Britain. During his school years Michael also worked on the farm and he recalled cutting and harvesting turf for winter fuel.  When he was nineteen he sat examinations for the Civil Service and was one of 10 from hundreds of applicants called to Power Distillery in Dublin for a six week course of introduction and Instruction.  A career in Custom and Excise followed.  His first post was to Lancaster where his task was relieving officer from stations from Barrow-in-Furness to Preston.  On one occasion a seizure of goods was required because of arrears in duty.  Michael refused to seize the goods because he said it was like the act of a “Sheriffs Officer”.  “What you ask me to do is regarded in my country as work for a different class of men, I will not do it”.  He was summoned to Lancaster but was met by an understanding senior collector who said to Michael “It is clear that this service is not suited to you”.  I will give you the opportunity to seek another career either in London or Dublin.  Michael chose Dublin.

Michael became a student at Kings Inns and managed to fit in Law lectures with work at the Distillery.  In his last year at Kings Inns he was posted to Yorkshire and missed out on lectures which prevented him sitting his final exams.  He studied the regulations and found that winning a Victoria prize would cure the defect and that he duly did.   He also found that there was an honours examination which would, if achieved, excuse him two whole terms and that he took also and succeeded.

Now a barrister he joined the Munster circuit, took a couple of cases and found himself retained for the next four sessions of the Munster circuit.  In his book “Their Friends at Court”, Mr James Comyn (Michael’s nephew) recalls many cases in which Michael was involved and in which he won the respect of the general public and the legal fraternity alike.

He had an interest in politics and became active in the few years before the 1916 rising and during the civil war that followed. He wrote “In a war of Independence the guiding principles are fidelity and honour – in civil war you can expect treachery and deceit” In 1909 he became involved in the N.W. Manchester elections and got to know Winston Churchill and his mother Lady Randolph of which he was greatly impressed.

In politics his sympathy and help went to those who took part in the 1916 rising and their successor and ultimately to Mr de Valera and his party.  During the troubles as Senior Council he was kept busy defending men charged before the Military courts.

He successfully defended many charged before the Military courts but the case that stands out is how he managed to defend 42 Irish men under the sentence of death. A solicitor in Mitchelstown, Co.Cork, Mr James G. Skinner was defending 42 men under the sentence of death and asked Michael and his brother James to do something “Do anything but do something” he said “ Invent something if necessary”.  It was in April 1921, 42 civilians were arrested near Mitchelstown and on May 3rd 1921 were charged with being improperly in possession of arms and ammunition and sentenced to death.

Michael brought a writ on the basis that the court was illegal and had no jurisdiction to try the men.  On July 28th 1921, 10 weeks from the original trial in Cork the case was being decided at the House of Lords in London.  On learning of the case, King George was moved to personally interfere and ensure that the sentences of death were not carried out.  In the end none of the 42 men died and when the treaty came shortly afterwards the men were freed.

Well known Ennistymon man, Michael John Glynn of ‘The Clare Champion’ procured this song of litigation following agrarian unrest in Ennistymon and illustrates the high regard in which Michael Comyn KC was held by people throughout Co Clare.

Twas on a black December day

The hills of Clare were far away

And hirelings ready to betray

A gallant Irish boy.

Judge Dodd was robed in scarlet gown
And G. McSweeney for the crown,
While Michael Comyn won renown,
For his defence that day.

The case was called, the jury packed,
McSweeney read the Whiteboy Act,
The peeler swore it was a fact
That Arkins knocked the wall.

Then Comyn dressed the peeler down,
“Take care” says Dodd “You’ll lose the gown
At Munster Bar and Dublin Town
You have with honour worn.”

To this the Counsel gave no heed,
He was a man of noble breed
It warmed the heart to hear him plead
With eloquence sublime.

The jury it was badly packed
And seeing the peelers spreely hacked
Could not agree about the fact
That Arkins knocked the wall.

But Sweeney knows that rebel Cork
Has still twelve men to do his work
A jury bloody as the Turk
Young Arkins will condemn.

Then spoke the judge in accents low
“To penal servitude you go,
For I’m the judge and you the foe
Of England and the King.

“You’re doomed for seven long years to dwell
A captive lone in convict cell,
Unless your comrades names you tell
And yield them up to me.”

But Arkins was of brave men born,
From love and kindred basely torn
Cast on that judge a look of scorn
And proved himself a man.

And while his memory lives in Clare,
No cruel judge will ever dare
To ask her manly sons to wear,
The emblem of a spy.


Of the 1916 leaders, Michael knew the Pearse Brothers and their sister Margaret.  Thomas Clarke, leader of the Rising, Eamon de Valera and Mrs Brugha widow of Cathal Brugha.  The day of Bloody Sunday when 14 British soldiers were shot dead, Michael was defending a young farmer named O’Rourke at Marlborough Barracks in Dublin on a charge of murdering a British Soldier in an ambush in Co. Limerick.  The farmer was cleared of the charge but had to be hidden away because of the risk of being assassinated by friends of the dead soldier.

Michael Comyn was much taken by the Brehon laws of Ireland.  Ironically one of the Brehon schools was located where Tooclae Church now stands in Doolin (Doolin Parish Church) beside the Aille River.  Michael Comyn became a Senator and vice Chairman of The Senate after the 1933 election and remained there until he became a Judge.

During this time he became increasingly involved in his mining activities in North Clare in Doolin and Noughaval near Kilfenora.  He had discovered the potential of these mines earlier and had obtained freehold ownership over some of the sites and mining rights over others.  He starting mining in North Clare and by 1939 was employing 50-60 people, and had a wage bill of approx 600.00 pounds per week.  When the second world war broke out and phosphate supplies from North Africa were affected, the government decided to increase phosphate production at the North Clare mines and except for a small area, took over Judge Comyn’s mining operation. The government increased production by open cast and underground tunneling (at the peak of production the Doolin phosphate mines employed upwards of 400 men) which was a major financial boost to Doolin and the North Clare area.

Judge Comyn later protested at his mining facilities being taken over by central government and not being fully compensated.  Later in life when he had retired as a Judge he took a case against the government for loss of earnings due to their takeover of his mines.  His senior Council was Mr Sean Mc Bride, Brendan East was also part of the legal team.  Three thousand pounds was paid into court but was refused by him.  The case developed into one of the longest ever fought in the Irish courts.  He won the case and was awarded approx Twenty thousand pounds with interest.  It is said in legal circles that “A Lawyer who acts for himself has a fool as a client”.  Michael Comyn proved that maxim wrong.  However in turn that State recovered most of the award by investigating his tax returns vis-a-vis figures used to substantiate the claim for losses during the action against the State.

Judge Michael Comyn built his final home outside Lisdoonvarna. Much of the material used to build the house was sourced from period houses of note.  In turn the new house at Lisdoonvarna was in some cases designed to facilitate components such as windows, doors, stairs etc.s ourced from these houses. One example is the Grand Staircase which was sourced from Lady Gregory home at Coole Park outside Gort, Co.Galway.  I am told this stairs is still in use at Gregans Castle Hotel near Ballyvaughan.  Michael moved into the house before it was completed and never got the opportunity to finish his last project

He died in that house in 1952, at the age of 82 and the house was later demolished.  He is buried at Bishops Quarter outside Ballyvaughan, in his native County Clare.

A Clareman deeply involved in saving the lives of many Irish men in a remarkable career spanning over seventy years.

Eugene Garrihy


November 2010


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Belvin Hall, Tara, Co. Meath. The Comyn Family.


James Comyn

Belvin Hall, Tara

8 March 1921 – 5 Jan 1997

Obituary in The Times

James Comyn was reckoned by many to be the finest all-round advocate at the English Bar when he ascended the High Court bench at the beginning of 1978. He had mighty powers of assimilation and recall, a genius for simplification, a golden voice and a warm and winning way. He was as effective before a judge as before a jury.

His most spectacular victory was in 1964 in a libel action taken by the convicted robber Alfred Hinds against Detective Chief Superintendent Sparks, who had stated in his memoirs that Hinds was guilty of the crime of which he had been convicted. Comyn opened for the plaintiff with what the judge in the case described as the most shattering remark he had ever heard in court: “This man Hinds is innocent – and Sparks knows it.” Hinds was released after the verdict and the law was subsequently changed to prevent a criminal conviction being again challenged through libel proceedings. But better procedures were established to review miscarriages of justice.

James Peter Comyn was the only child of a barrister from the old Munster circuit, a Clare man – also called James who with his more able elder brother, Michael, espoused the Republican cause in Ireland in the years immediately preceding independence in 1921. Eamon deValera hid in their house during the Irish Civil War and often turned to the Comyn brothers for legal advice in the following years as he sought to displace the Government that had defeated the Republicans in the Civil War. But when de Valera came to power in 1932 there was a falling out when Michael Comyn was not made Attorney General. Old James vented the family ire by taking his son away from Belvedere, the Dublin Jesuit day school, and sent him to school in England. Young James went to the Oratory in Reading, Berkshire, then at the zenith of its prestige and proud to number among its recent old boys the Duke of Norfolk of the time. It was a long way from the Irish Republican world in which he had been reared.

Assisted by a trust bequeathed by his mother, who had died when he was only two, Comyn went on to read law at New College, Oxford, where he took a second. In 1940 he defeated Roy Jenkins to become president of the Oxford Union by a margin of four votes after several recounts.

Shortly afterwards he suffered the first in a series of nervous breakdowns that were to plague him throughout his adult life. After a period in hospital in Ireland he returned to London, where he worked for the Empire service of the BBC.

In 1942 Comyn was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple and in 1944 started his pupilage with Edward Holroyd Pearce (later Lord Pearce), going on to join Pearce Chambers in Fountain Court. He practiced on the Western Circuit as well as in London. He used to recall how rude some of the judges were in those days, mentioning particularly Rayner Goddard and commenting ruefully: “After Goddard, then Lord Chief Justice, rang me up asked me to take on his granddaughter as a pupil, I said to myself he would never be rude to me again. In fact, he was even ruder than before.”

Comyn took silk in 1961. He quickly established himself in the first ranks of Queen’s Counsel. He was regularly retained by the Official Solicitor and was counsel in a series of cases that established mandatory blood testing in paternity and matrimonial cases. Times newspapers was another regular client as he argued with success against the efforts of the Labour Attorney general, Sam Silken to injunct a serialisation by The Sunday Times of the Crossman Diaries. In 1970 Comyn defended Will Owen, the North East labour MP who was charged with passing secrets to agents of the Czech Government. He was acquitted. With justice it was said at the bar that “Jimmy Comyn can take the stink out of everything.”

As well as being successful Comyn was immensely well liked by his colleagues. To high and low alike he was equally friendly and courteous. He served as chairman of the Bar Council in 1974. But it was not inevitable that he would be raised to the bench. He had not volunteered for the Armed Forces in the Second World War and he clung to his Irish Passport, although even at that stage IRA violence had deprived Irishness of much of its charm for English people. And, while his courage in facing recurring depressions was admired, his mental health raised questions about his fitness for judicial office.

Nevertheless he was in 1977 nominated by the Labour Lord Chancellor, Lord Elwyn-Jones (he had previously refused a similar invitation from Lord Hailsham ) to become a high court judge. At first he sat in the family division for a couple of years but did not relish the regular diet of child custody cases, which he found depressing and troubling. He was, therefore, relieved to be reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division. A man of kindly disposition he proved a lenient sentence, so confirming a reputation he had first earned as Recorder of Andover when he was known as “Probation Comyn”. Coming from a more relaxed society it is possible that he did not fully share the Englishman’s sense of outrage about crimes of dishonesty or offences against property.

For six months, stretching over 1980 and 1981, he had the distinction of presiding over what was then the longest libel trial in English history, when a member of the Moonies failed in an action against the Daily Mail. He missed, however, the companionship of the Bar and found life on the bench rather lonely. The old “Black Dog” returned on several occasions and he resigned on grounds of ill-health in 1985, well before completing the normal pensionable period of 15 years.

Comyn was a model son and nephew to the older generation of his own family and such was his devotion that – in Irish style- he postponed marriage until they had all died. Throughout this time at the bar he had travelled regularly to Ireland to help to manage an aunt’s farm in Co. Meath, which he eventually inherited and expanded.

He kept a pedigree herd of Aberdeen Angus cows and at one stage owned Victor, the three times champion bull of Ireland at the Royal Dublin Society’s spring show. He also exhibited at agricultural shows throughout the country during the long vacation, while all the Irish country people accepted him as one of their own. He played an occasional game of golf at Royal Tara Golf Club.

Any one of Her Majesty’s judges was a possible target for IRA terrorists and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burnt his house at Tara to the ground, coincidentally destroying in the process many family memorabilia of the republican movement in bygone days.

He had already written a book about his father and uncle entitled Their Friends at Court. It was a fine act of pietas. But those who had known them discerned that it was a gilded picture with much left unsaid. He also wrote books on famous trials, as well as volumes of memoirs and anecdotes, which included some verses of his own. These books were entertaining and easy to read but perhaps not of lasting value. It was characteristic of him that his account of his own career was sanitised of anything that was unpleasant.

Comyn married in 1967 Anne Chandler, a solicitor. He is survived by her and by an adopted son and daughter. He died in Navan hospital, Co. Meath.


Belvin Hall

Belvin Hall is located near Skryne. A modest late two storey Georgian block, perfectly proportioned according to Casey and Rowan. The house was burned and completely restored in the mid 1980s. In the 1830s the house was described as a gentleman‟s seat in the south side of the townland of Oberstown, Skryne. In the 1850s Henry B.W. Slator held the house and property from the Earl of Milltown.

James Comyn, a distinguished barrister and High Court judge in England lived from the age of 9 at Belvin Hall when his aunt acquired it. He recalled the house in his book “Summing it up – Memoirs of an Irishman at law in England.” Comyn divided his time between England and Ireland. The original Belvin was erected about 1700. It was burned in 1981 probably by the IRA. In the adjoining garden are two beech trees trained to form an arch. He recalled the installation of running water, the telephone and electricity. Comyn maintained a pedigree herd of Aberdeen Angus at Belvin Hall. Comyn also wrote “Irish at Law” and “Their Friends at Court” Sir James presided over a famous case in relation to the Moonies. In 1997 following the death of Sir James Belvin Hall was put up for sale.

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Addendum by Michelle Marcella Clarke

JJ was so much of a Father figure in my life.  As a young child I recall forever asking him questions and he having endless patience with the answers.  Every Sunday he and my Dad would buy all the UK newspapers in Murphy’s shop in Dunshaughlin.  JJ would then read through them, he was their legal adviser.  Recently a case was mentioned and it reminded me of being a curious child listening to JJ and Dad discussing his latest case.  They decided to hide the News of the World but not for long and I was back to them with the basic details.  Yes, it was man who became a woman and married another man.  It was the April Ashley case which received scintallating coverage in the 1960’s press

Never doubt a child’s ability to be curious.  Life dealt me a hand that made this curiosity an essential component for survival.  Like my father and JJ, I too have had to deal with the Black Dog and have been medicated for decades now.  JJ’s father, my granduncle James, fell down the steps of the courts and sustained a brain injury which greatly upset JJ but when I was involved in a horse riding accident in Zimbabwe where I fractured my skull and my marriage of 14 years ended in divorce, JJ saw history repeat itself and it saddened him.

Awe and curiosity, the computer, Google, social media became my source of Artificial Intelligence to cope with the brain injury.  National Screening for cancer in 2017 diagnosed breast cancer.  What did I do?  I decided to write a book.

Fortune Favours the Brave by Michelle Marcella Clarke





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As Was on JSTOR re Michael Comyn KC

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Quotes centred on history of the Arab Christian history of our world at war. Theme Detente by Michelle Clarke (Addendum: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his great great grandfather Ottoman Empire Minister for the Interior)

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Emails to Politicians, Consultants, Senators et al: No dignity afforded to Mental Health patients in Dublin 4 by Michelle Clarke

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Essay: written 1997: Divorce in Ireland, a new phenomenon or not?

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