Jesuit, or, Catholic sentinel (1829-1831), Volume I, Number XLVIII, 31 July 1830 — Triumph of the Catholic Religion EXECUTION of MR. COMYN, IN ENNIS, FOR FORGERY [ARTICLE]
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Triumph of the Catholic Religion EXECUTION of MR. COMYN, IN ENNIS, FOR FORGERY
On Wednesday, the 28th April, this wretched man expiated on the gallows the offence of which he had been guilty against the laws of his country. From the moment that he became aware that there was no hope to be entertained from the Government, he devoted himself to religion, and continued unceasingly to exercise himself in its duties. At half past two o’clock the wretched man, attended by six Catholic clergymen, was brought into the press-room. He was dressed in a suit of black and had a silk handkerchief loosely tied round his neck. After praying for about half an hour he rose, and beckoned the executioner to his duty. While his arms were binding, and the other preparations were making necessary for his execution, he seemed either regardless, or unconscious of what was doing—his eyes remained fixed in one position, while his lips were moving as if in prayer.
When he was told that all was ready, he kissed each of the clergymen on the cheek, and desired that he might be conducted to the drop. About three o’clock he was led forth, and being placed on the drop, not more than a few seconds intervened until it fell, and life became at once extinct; the unfortunate man appearing to die without a struggle. The body, after hanging the usual time, was placed in a coffin, and removed the same evening to Corofin, where it was met by the many numerous and respectable relatives of the deceased. Three of the illegitimate children of Mr. Comyn were with him in prison. It would be impossible to describe their agony and distress at the moment of parting from their miserable parent, who displayed in the interview with them the same steadiness of nerve and firmness of mind, which marked his demeanor up to the moment of his death.
As a mark of respect for the family of Mr. Comyn, and as a testimony of commiseration of his fate, the inhabitants of Ennis had their shops closed the entire of Wednesday. The Rev. Messrs. Cullinan and Geoghan remained with Mr. Comyn during the entire of the previous night, administering to him the consolations of the Catholic Church, to which faith he conformed since his conviction. He prayed very fervently during the night, and towards morning, finding himself somewhat exhausted, he retired to take some rest, and slept soundly for nearly three hours Several clergymen visited him during the morning, and he appeared to enjoy great comfort from their spiritual instructions.
The following very solemn profession of faith, signed by this unfortunate gentleman on the day he suffered, was sent to us last night for publication:— Ennis Goal, half past 2 o’clock, April 2Sth IS3O. “ Having attentively listened to the clergymen and laymen of the different persuasions on the most important of all subjects, my eternal happiness, I am firmly convinced that the Holy Roman Catholic Church is that in which I can more securely die. During the last month I hope I have labored to avail myself of the advantages and graces imparted by the Mother Church, exclusively: and with my last accents I leave my blessing to the Very Rev. and Venerable Dean O’Shaughnessy, the Chaplain of the prison, and to the Rev. Gentlemen whom he has selected to administer spiritual consolation to my departing spirit. PETER COMYN, “James Fitzpatrick, “Ralph Cullinan-. “James O’Shaughnessy.”
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Peter Comyn was the son of David Comyn of Kilcorney and Dorothea Mc Namara of Doolin, Co. Clare. He resided in Bishop’s Quarter, Ballyvaughan, which he inherited from his mother. He lived here until at least 1814. At one time he had a yearly income of over £600. He also had land at Deimnacurrin and registered a £50 freehold in 1813. He was by then a serving magistrate for nine years and in that capacity acted at different times in Clare, Galway and Mayo.
Peter Comyn was a strange and complex character. Physically he was a big man. John O’Donovan in his letters describes him as “a stout robust man of large proportions and corpulant”. He was interested in folklore and he collected stories and legends from his neighbours. He suffered from a mental disorder which at times manifested itself in outbursts of insanity. He had a common law wife and three, or possibly four, children.
He leased land in the townland of Murtyclough and lived there, cared for by two servant maids. His house was called Scotland Lodge and according to the “Clare Journal” he had built it himself. The site of his house is not far from the old national school of Ballyveleghan, near New Quay. His landlord was Bindon Scott of Cahercon and by 1829 the “most rancorous animosity” had existed between them for a number of years. The bad feeling dates back to 1743 when Peter’s grandfather, Laurence Comyn, was involved in a mortgage deal with John Scott. Comyn lost heavily in the deal. At the height of their dispute over possession of Scotland Lodge, on the night of December 7th, 1829, the house was set on fire. Peter was found guilty of arson, two counts of perjury and one of forgery. He was sentenced to death by hanging and executed on April 28th, 1830. He became a Catholic a month before he perished on the gallows of the County Gaol in Ennis. His conversion to Catholicism gave rise to some comment in the newspapers. He had been generally considered at least a nominal Protestant, but he was, more likely, a religious sceptic.
On the day of his execution “most of the gentry”, to many of whom he was related, “had left town in various directions nor was any of them visible”. They had made every effort to save him, one of their own, from the scaffold. As a mark of respect the shopkeepers of Ennis closed their businesses on that day. Both the written records and the folk memory are less than flattering to Peter’s character. O’Donovan described Peter as “a rare instance of human talent, honour, folly and dishonesty most strangely combined”. << Back to Clare People
Source: National Archives
|TITLE:||Letters from A De Frieze, [London], and Eliza Hewson, [Dublin], pleading for a royal pardon for Peter Comyn, Ennis Gaol|
|SCOPE & CONTENT:||Letter from [Sir] Robert Peel, [Home Secretary], Whitehall, [London, England], to William Gregory, [Under Secretary, Dublin Castle], enclosing letters from A De Frieze, 15 Nassau Street, [London], and Eliza Hewson, 29 Grenville Street, Mount Joy [Mountjoy] Square, [Dublin], pleading for a royal pardon for Peter Comyn, Ennis Gaol, [County Clare], a former magistrate who was sentenced for burning his house, Scotland Lodge.|
|EXTENT:||3 items; 9pp|
|DATE(S):||4 Apr 1830-8 Apr 1830|
Royal Mercy’s Constitutional Context
“…..A dying George IV was the last monarch to act independently by reprieving a gentleman and sometime magistrate, Peter Comyn, convicted of arson on his residence in Co. Clare, in April 1830. With opposition from the Home Secretary, Peel and Wellington, the King backed down. At the same time, the prerogative was politicized by party politics. The Tory William Huskisson, seaking on the opposition MP Robert Grant’s motion on a regency in July 1830 after William IV’s accession, asserted the need for no break in the Monarchy…..
“The declining George IV failed, in the end, to save an Irish gentleman and sometime magistrate, Peter Comyn, of County Clare (connected to some of the leading families in Clare and Galway, from being hanged for arson, in late April 1830, after burning his own house in December 1829. Memorials were sent to the king from Ennis. The reprieve through King’s messenger (reported in the Irish press) delayed execution at Ennis jail by weeks, and the affair involved the vicroy, the Duke of Northumberland, and Prime Minister Wellington. The Clare Sentinel hoped that ‘the brightest gem in royal prerogative … may still be influences to ‘illumine his dungeon’. It was not to be. Yet attendance despite the ‘ardent curiosity of the lower classes of the people to witness fatal exhibitions of this kind, especially where the sufferer was far from the ordinary routine of such cases’ was limited because of the general impression that Comyn would be spared. The junior sheriff even offered to delay the execution until 4 pm, to await any letters of respite. The case for mercy on the basis of unsound intellect had not been demonstrated, although newspapers described Comyn as ‘occasionally eccentric’ or suffering from ‘great mental aberration, amounting in many instances to acts of insanity’. To use the Limerick Post’s phrase when it appeared that Comyn would live, he was kept through George’s mercy ‘in a state of cruel vibration between life and death’. Footnotes 199 – 203
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|Collection||George IV Private Papers|
|Title||Letterbook of George IV’s private correspondence|
|Date||29 April 1821-15 April 1830|
GEO/MAIN/24971: Letter from George IV from the Duke [?] regarding a petition from the inhabitants of County Clare [Ireland] relating to Peter Comyn’s sentence to death for arson [at Scotland Lodge, Murtyclough, County Clare, Ireland], [c.1829]. [See also GEO/MAIN/25048-25049]
PGEO/MAIN/25048-25049: Letter from Robert Peel to George IV regarding the respite of Peter Comyn’s sentence of execution for arson [at Scotland Lodge, Murtyclough, County Clare, Ireland], 15 April 1830, Whitehall. [See also GEO/MAIN/24971]
Interesting link: People executed … including Peter Comyn, Gentleman
The Macnamaras of Doolin & Ennistymon by Michael Mac Mahon
The Macnamaras of Co. Clare are among the oldest families in Ireland and can trace their lineage back almost to the dawn of authentic history. The Annals of the Four Masters record their warring exploits from Viking times down to the storming of Anglo-Norman fortress at Quin; right down to the seventeenth century when their territorial boundaries finally collapsed in the Cromwellian confiscations. In the history of Co. Clare, they rank second only to the royal O’Briens with whom they shared a common ancestor; and,in fact, it was the privilege of the Macnamaras to preside at the inauguration of the O’Brien kings of Thomond. The territory over which the Macnamaras held sway was known for centuries as Uí Caisín, after Cas the ancestor of the Dalcassian tribes. At one time,it included almost all that part of Clare lying east of the River Fergus and south of a line extending from Ruanto the Shannon. In the final centuries of their dominance the Macnamara chiefs were known as lords of Clancullen, and in 1580 they held no fewer than forty-two castles in their territory.
In the land surveys of the following century no less than two hundred of their name held lands in fee simple.
The Gaelic version of the name i.e. Macconmara signifies ‘son of the sea hound’ (i.e.the seal) and is traceable to the ancient Celtic custom of incorporating an animal or legendary figure into a surname. The Sheedys and Conheadys of Co. Clare also derive from the Macnamaras, taking their names from Maccon and Con ‘Síoda’(‘SilkenSkinned’)
Macnamara. Among the noteworthy achievements of the Macnamaras was the founding of the abbey for Franciscan friars at Quin, right in the heart of their territory. In 1433 Pope Eugene IV issued a testimony in praise of Maccon, son of Sioda Cam Mcnamara “for his devotion to the order of St. Francis, and for his pious purpose in maintaining a house in the town of Quin in the diocese of Killaloe with church, belfry and other necessary buildings for the use and dwelling place of Friars Minor who shall there serve God under regular observance”.
The friary continued to be endowed by succeeding chieftains of the clan, and for generations the name Francis became a favourite name in many Macnamara families. Macnamara with a small ‘n’, the form of the name habitually used by this family, is retained throughout.
The Macnamaras were greatly reduced by the Cromwellian confiscations in the seventeenth century, and only six of their principal families retained part of their ancestral lands, although some of them did afterwards manage to recover substantial holdings from the new owners. Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, the Clare historian James Frost remarked that “even at this day, though fallen to the rank of the common people, an air of gentility and breeding is observable in many members of this ancient family”.
The Doolin/Ennistymon Branch
The Macnamaras of Doolin and Ennistymon were descended from the lordly Cancullen and their arrival in North Clare can be put down to the dislocation caused by the Cromwellian Land Settlement in the mid-seventeenth century. According to the family pedigree which was registered sometime before 1794 with the Grant of Arms, Ulster Office, by Francis Macnamara of Doolin, this branch began with Teige Macnamara of Ballynacraggy, who settled in Sean-Mucinis, parish of Drumcreehy (Ballyvaughan) in 1659.
Teige was the great-grandson of Donough Macnamara of Moyriesk and Creevagh (living in 1594) from whose eldest son, by later descent, derived Francis of Moyriesk, a member of parliament for Clare in 1790 and the father of the famous John ‘Fireball’ Macnamara said to have fought fifty-seven duels, and to have been wounded at Vinegar Hill.
Teige Macnamara of Drumcreehy married Ann Nugent, daughter of Edmund Nugent of Colmanstown, Co. Kildare, an ‘innocent papist’ who, like himself had been transplanted to North Clare by the Cromwellian commissioners.
They had a family of seven sons, the youngest of whom was Bartholomew, ancestor of the Macnamaras of Doolin and Ennistymon. Burke’s Irish Family Records, states that this Bartholomew was born in 1685 and lived at Muraghlin (Murrough?) in the Burren. He married Dorothy, daughter of William Brock, mayor of Galway, and had issue:
2. Michael d.s.p .
3 .Teige of Fermoyle d.s.p
4. .John. Married the dau of Anthony McDonagh of Irish Brigade fame.
5 . Mary m. Hugh Davoren
6. Margaret m. Robert Skerritt
7. Ann m. Laurence Comyn, KilcorneyBartholomew died in 1761 and was buried in the old church of Rathbourney, near Ballyvaughan.
10. William the eldest son was born at Gleninagh in 1714. He married Catherine Sarsfield, daughter and eventually co-heiress of Francis Sarsfield of Doolin and his wife, Arabella Martin, of Dangan, Co. Galway.
The Sarsfields claimed descent from an old Anglo-Norman family who had come to Ireland in the twelfth century. By the end of the sixteenth century they were amongst the foremost in the country, having acquired large properties in Kildare, Cork and Limerick. Patrick Sarsfield (b. 1593) Recorder of Limerick city had extensivelands in Lower Bunratty in 1641. Like the Macnamaras he too was transplanted to North Clare and in 1653 he was assigned 888 plantation acres in the parishes of Kilmoon and Doolin. One of his sons, Ignatius Sarsfield, became a major in Charles O’Brien’s regiment of infantry and distinguished himself in one of the Irish brigades in France. General Patrick Sarsfield of siege of Limerick fame was a close relative.
The marriage of William Macnamara to Catherine Sarsfield might seem at first glance to explain the acquisition of the Sarsfield estate by the Macnamaras. In fact, the matter was not quite so simple, and the entire affair ended up in a tangle of legal proceedings in chancery.
Catherine had six brothers, all of whom at one time or another served with the Irish brigades in France. They were therefore deemed to be ‘forfeiting persons’ under the penal laws of the time, having gone into military service outside the kingdom without a licence. In order to circumvent the law, the lands were transferred to Macnamara and others, but over time relations turned sour leading to litigation and infighting which persisted long after William Macnamara’s death in 1762.
The affair was further complicated by Catherine’s second marriage to Nicholas Comyn of Kilcorney sometime around 1772. William Macnamara and Catherine Sarsfield had issue has follows:FrancisWilliam of Mogouhy & MoheraroonMary mar Francis Martyn, GalwayCatherineAnneDorothyDorothy, the youngest daughter, married her cousin David Comyn of Kilcorney and afterwards of Bishop’s Quarter who became a J.P. in 1769. Their son, Peter Comyn of Scotland Lodge, New Quay, caused something of a political bombshell when he was hanged at Ennis in 1830 for burning down his dwelling house following a dispute with his landlord, Bindon Scott of Cahercon.12Francis Macnamara the eldest son was born in Doolin in 1750. His father’s will stipulated that he receive his education from Lucius O’ Brien, 3rdbaronet of Dromoland, but where this actually took place is not known. His brother William became a law student at the Temple in London. In 1774 Francis married Jane Stamer of Carnelly 4House, Clarecastle, grand-daughter of Christopher O’Brien of Ennistymon. They built Doolin House, the ruins of which still exist, butin 1806 they moved to Wellpark, near Galway city, where Francis died in 1821. Francis and Jane had issue as follows:William NugentRichard of OughdarraGeorgeFrancis (Aran View)Henry (Roy. Navy)John (of Moher)Sir Burton (Admiral RN)Brock (died in Jamaica)Stamer (d. in childhood)Honora (d. aged 20)Dorothy Catherine m.Capt. CalcuttBy all accounts, Francis’s wife Jane Stamer was cast in the mould of a Jezebel and ruled over her husband and family with an iron fist. After the birth of her youngest daughter, over whom she doted, her relations with the older children turned sour and she spent much of the remainder of her life tryingto have them disinherited in favour of her youngest child. It is stated that she physically threw them out of the house, sometimes for weeks on end when they were obliged to seek shelter in the homes of family servants. Shetook upon herself the management of the estate, forging her husband’s name to leases which were doled out sometimes for substantial bribes. The move to Galway in 1806 was regarded by their friends as entirely Jane’s idea for the perverse purpose of putting further distance between her husband and his family and relations. It is said that the move broke Francis’ s heart, and there is a pathetic account of how the carriage had to be brought every day for a week to the hall door before he could be induced to leave his beloved Doolin.13Later when some of the children had gone away from home she would write to them without her husband’s knowledge forbidding them to come to visit him, while at the same time she complained to him about their lack of concern for his welfare.Macnamara v Macnamara After Francis’s death in 1821 Jane sought to frustrate the terms of his will, and William Nugent and some of his brothers were obliged to take legal proceedings against her. The affair is much too complicated to be discussed here, but it discloses an unhappy saga of jealousy and family feuding. To add to her troubles Jane’s favourite daughter did not live up to her mother’s expectations; she ran away with a penniless young army officer named William Calcutt and caused something of a scandal when she was discovered secreted away in a barracks at Dunmore. To their credit Calcutt and Dorothy later entered into a successful marriage and their only son, Francis Calcutt Macnamara, became a popular M.P. for Co. Clare in the 1850s.He died from cancer in 1863, aged 44. He lived at St. Catherine’s at Gotaclob near Doolin, a property which Dorothy 5inherited on her marriage. Dorothy herself died around 1824 pre-deceasing her mother by about ten years.Evidence adduced at the court proceedings between Jane Macnamara and her sons throws an interesting sidelight on conditions obtaining around the end of eighteenth century and particularly on the educational opportunities open to the children of landed Protestant families who could afford to pay their way. It was stated that John had boarded at Stephen O’Halloran’s school at Ennis. Stamer and Burton were sent to Portarlington to a school run by a Mr. Bonafin where they stayed at ‘a heavy expense’. Burton later went to Mr. Fitzgerald’s school at Ennis and remained there until he entered the navy. Stamer was removed from his school in Portarlington to Mr. Moore’s school at Donnybrook, where he became ill and died. Brock was sent to Mr. Bonafin’s school at the age of four and afterwards enteredTrinity College. After graduatinghe went to Jamaica and died there soon afterwards of yellow fever. Francis was educated at Killaloe, Clonmel and Dublin. He then came home and was given a farm free by his father. George was sent to school at Ennis. When at home all the sons had, at one time or another, received instruction from a resident tutor. Honora died of consumption at the age of 30.The later careers of William Nugent and Burton are reasonably well known but information on the fortunes of the other sons is patchy. Francis, as we have seen, was given a farm by his father, together with a sum of one thousand pounds at the time of his marriage to Marcella O’ Flaherty from Aran. The farm was known as Glasha and on it Francis and Marcella built a house which they named Aran View. Much extended and refurbished it is now the attractive Aran View House Hotel run by the Linnane family at Doolin. Marcella is said to have inherited a quantity of fine gold and silver ornaments salvaged from a wreck of the ill-fated Spanish Armada. After her death in 1856 the objects passed to her daughter Catherine Macnamara, wife of Robert Johnson J.P., who married into Aran View. After Catherine’s death in 1867 the object passed once more to herdaughter –another Marcella –who married Francis Blake-Foster of Ballykeale near Kilfenora.Francis’s brother George served in the army but apparently was obliged to leave when his father refused to pay for a commission for him. However, he was rewarded with a farm at Oughdarra and was also a beneficiary to the tune of five hundred pounds from his father’s will. Henry, the fifth son of Francis and Jane Macnamara served in the royal navy for a period. At some point in later life he suffered from a mental illness of some kind and he is said to have received a conviction at Ennis allegedly for throwing a woman into a fire.14