Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Matthew Cullen 1901-1922

Matthew Cullen was born in Portarlinton in 1902 to Timothy and Mary Cullen of Ballymorris, Portarlington. After Mary’s death, Timothy his children lived with their relations, Michael and Margaret Murphy. 

Timothy worked as a dray man and agricultural labourer. Matthew found employment in Russell’s sawmills. There was lockout of ITGWU members at Russell’s in 1918, during which time Constance Markievicz visited the town to address a meeting. It is not known if Cullen was working in the mills at that time of the dispute. A John Cullen from Portarlington died in an industrial accident at Castlecomer coal mines in June 1919. It is possible but not certain that John was Matthew’s brother.

Matthew’s older brothers James and Thomas were members of the Portarlington volunteer company, part of the Laois IRA Brigade. James was imprisoned for illegal drilling in 1918. Matthew followed in his brothers’ footsteps. He was interned at the Curragh during 1921 and released after the signing of the Treaty.    

Cullen joined the National Army in the spring of 1922. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant and served in north Tipperary at the beginning of the Civil War. He was described as… 

‘Having been almost in every engagement in the Nenagh area’

Transferred to Offaly in August 1922, he joined his brothers as part of the Tullamore Garrison. On 29th August, Cullen and around 20 comrades were detailed to clear roads in the vicinity of Mount Bolus and Kilcormac. That evening on their return journey to Tullamore, Keogh was a passenger a three-car convoy when it was ambushed at Bonaterrin Hill between the Blueball and Screggan. In later evidence, Lieutenant William Donnelly recalled…  

We, military party, were coming along the road on Tuesday evening, 29th; I was driving the first car, and was not expecting anything to happen, but a few bullets came through the windscreen of the car. Whoever fired at us had positions on both sides of the road. There were six of us (military) in the car including myself. Immediately the fire opened I blocked the car to the left, and it ran into the ditch; the car toppled over on its side. The inside of the car was facing up the road towards Tullamore. Lieut. Leahy and Lieut. Cullen, who were now on the road, took cover in the car. They had been thrown out onto the road and got back into the car. Fire opened then from Tullamore direction on the right-hand side of the road. Lieut Cullen was first hit, and I believe he died at once. About a minute afterwards Lieut Leahy got wounded by a shot from same direction, which came down the road. We got into position and started firing on the wood at left hand side going towards Tullamore. We could not see anyone at the time or at any time. The firing from both sides of the road continued for about ten minutes.’ (1)

Tommy Ennis of the driver of the third car managed to extract the wounded Leahy for medical treatment in Tullamore. The rest of the party engaged in a firefight, until reinforcements arrived, and the attackers withdrew. In the aftermath of the attack Matthew Cullen’s body was conveyed to the county hospital where an inquest was opened the next day. 

The funeral at Tullamore was described as of immense proportions. There was a large turnout from the National Army detachment who provided an Honour Guard and the general population. After mass at the Church of Assumption, the cortege was escorted to the railway station by the Pipers Band playing the ‘Flowers of the Forest’ and ‘Lord Lovatt’s Lament’. The band of the Dublin Guards and a firing party attended the burial at Portarlington.

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing research by Raymond Cullen into the life of Matthew Cullen


Sources:

Military Service Pension Collection. Matthew Cullen 2D418. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection1916-1923

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Raymond Cullen. ‘Troops ambushed near Tullamore, 29 August 1922: death of my granduncle Matthew Cullen’. Offaly History online at  https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/troops-ambushed-near-tullamore-29-august-1922-death-of-my-granduncle-matthew-cullen-by-raymond-cullen

Terry Dunne. The Portarlington sawmills lockout 1918. Laois Local Studies. Online at https://laoislocalstudies.ie/the-portarlington-sawmills-lockout-of-1918/

Evening Herald. 11 July 1918.

Freemans Journal. 19 June 1919. 30 August 1922.

Westmeath Independent. 2 September 1922.

(1) Westmeath Independent. 2 September 1922.

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