Navan and District Historical Society:
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I too have very close links with Belvin Hall. Aged 5, my mother, brother Shane and myself moved from Roscommon to live in Belvin with my Aunt Lily, JJ (when he returned each week, an Aer Lingus flight, from London ) and a host of other people who managed the farm and the house. We lived in Belvin for nearly a year before moving into the Dispensary house called Belper on the road to Tara Hill.
Belvin Hall was granted to Auntie Delia, the eldest sister of the Comyn family who had been evicted from their lands in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. Auntie Delia did not marry or have any children. She is assumed to have left Belvin to JJ and not to her two nieces Marcella and Eleanor Rose. JJ gave Eleanor Rose 4 acres of the original 40 acres granted so that she could build her home on the site, which she did and has lived there since 1976 to 2017, when she passed away. JJ married Anne Chandler in 1968. I was their bridesmaid and my father was JJ’s bestman. The reception was at Belvin. In 1978 I lived with JJ and Anne in Paulton’s Square, Chelsea, SW3, for almost two years before returning to Ireland to live in Dublin. JJ and Anne were very special people in my life and they had a very profound influence on my character development at a young age which forms the foundations of later life experiences.
Comyn, Sir James
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 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.
Copied from: meath-roots.com
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