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. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1912639610/
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.