Comyn, Michael (1871–1952), lawyer and politician, was born 6 June 1871 at Clareville, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, the eldest son and the second of seven children of James Comyn of Kilshanny, Co. Clare, a tenant farmer and secretary of the local branch of the Land League, and his wife Ellenora, daughter of Thomas Quin, of Fanta Glebe, Kilfenora, Co. Clare. In 1879 the family were evicted by Lord Clanricarde's (qv) agent and moved to the townland of Gortnaboul in Kilshanny parish; Comyn went to the local national school, where he was taught by Vere Ryan, father of the republican Frank Ryan (qv). Later he attended Hugh Brady's school at Ruan, Co. Clare, which had a reputation for tutoring its students successfully for civil service examinations, boarding with an aunt during the week. Aged nineteen he became an excise officer and was assigned to Lancaster, where he attended Preston College. After a short while he returned to Dublin and began to study law at the King's Inns while continuing to work during the day. Despite being transferred to Burton Salmon, Yorkshire, he completed his studies and was admitted to the Irish bar in 1898 taking the Victoria prize. In 1900 he joined the Munster circuit and he took silk in June 1914. In the main his work was on the civil side; Clare county council retained him as their standing counsel. He often had his younger brother James Comyn (1880–1953) as his junior counsel.
In his early days at the bar Comyn met the Fenian John O'Leary (qv) and was himself active in advanced nationalist politics, becoming acquainted with Patrick Pearse (qv), and Tom Clarke (qv). During the 1916 Easter rising he was in Kansas City, USA, but on his return he became involved in the defence of republican prisoners before the military courts. His most notable case was Re Clifford and O'Sullivan. A test case, it dealt with forty-two men who had been sentenced to death by a court martial in Co. Cork. Finding that habeas corpus applications were of no avail, Comyn took the unprecedented step of applying for a writ of prohibition against General Sir Nevil Macready (qv), for which there was no precedent in a military court. The application was refused by all the courts and went to the house of lords. Such delaying tactics gained a stay of execution and, with the truce and the treaty, the eventual release of the men. In Comyn's view the case had been brought to an end through the intervention of George V, who, he said, secured a promise from the prime minister that no executions would take place and that peace would be made. No republican prisoner whose case Comyn took up during the troubles suffered the death penalty. Other notable cases included his appeal to the house of lords on behalf of suffragette Georgina Frost (qv).
After the truce (July 1921) he met Arthur Griffith (qv) and Austin Stack (qv) in London, where he revealed to them intelligence from a highly placed British source that Lloyd George would negotiate on lines that would satisfy Smuts and would go to the country rather than to war if those negotiations failed. Although he admired Michael Collins (qv), whom he knew well, he took the anti-treaty side during the civil war. He sheltered Erskine Childers (qv) and acted as his defence counsel, later saying of Childers’ execution: ‘it was a complete negation of justice, the worst I have ever known, to execute a man whose case for life or death was actually under argument and awaiting judgment’ (quoted in Comyn, Their friends at court). After the civil war he became principal legal adviser to Éamon de Valera (qv) and Fianna Fáil, advising on the formation of the party and the founding of the Irish Press newspaper. It was Comyn and George Gavan Duffy (qv) who suggested to de Valera that the Irish Free State could withhold payment of the land annuities to Britain. Between 1928 and 1936 Comyn served as a senator, and was vice-chairman of the house (1934–6). A keen debater, he was a hard-working and able legislator, if unforgiving of political opponents. On de Valera'a accession to power, he expected to be made attorney general but was passed over in favour of Conor Maguire (qv). In 1932 he took a successful action against de Valera's government for the recovery of £20,000 of IRA funds. Appointed a judge of the circuit court in February 1936 he was assigned to the eastern circuit until he retired in 1946. He was later described as ‘the most popular and most humane of all the circuit court judges’ (MacKenzie).
A keen student of geology and chemical research, Comyn discovered phosphate and tin deposits in 1924. He opened three successful mines all within ten miles of Ballyvaughan and was appointed chairman of the Irish mines commission in 1932. In January 1942 the government compulsorily acquired the mines, under an emergency powers order, paying Comyn only a statutory compensation. In retirement he took an action (1949–50) against the attorney general claiming compensation. He was awarded £20,320 and interest at the rate of 4 per cent from January 1942. With Robert Briscoe (qv) he was one of the central figures in the controversy surrounding the granting of gold mining leases in Co. Wicklow. A select committee of the dáil was established to conduct an investigation under the chairmanship of William Norton (qv). Comyn is reputed to have presented the catholic and Church of Ireland archbishops of Dublin with altar ornaments of Wicklow gold. By the standards of the time unorthodox, he had a particular fondness for snuff. He died 6 October 1952 at his summer residence, St Patrick's, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare.
In 1924 Comyn married Marcella Margaret, younger daughter of Blake Forster, the O'Donnellan, of Ballykeal House, Kilfenora, Co. Clare; they had two daughters and a son who died in infancy. In Dublin they lived at 9 Northbrook Road, Ranelagh. His nephew Sir James Comyn (qv) became a high court judge in England.