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Peter Comyn
(1778-1830)


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".

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