The Cullen Family

Cullen Family crest

(Crest No. 47. Plate 51.)

THE Cullen family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heremon. The founder of the family was Fiacha Baiceada, son of Cathire More, King of Ireland, A. D. 144. The ancient name was Culluins, meaning “Fairhaired.” The possessions of the sept were located in the present County of Armagh. O’Cullen was also a chief of Eoganach of Arra, in the barony of Owney and Arra, in Tipperary.

There was another family of the O’Cullens, or O’Cuilluins, chiefs of Coille Culluin (or the Woods of Cullen) now the barony of Kilcullen in the County of Kildare. Their territory was according to the Abbé MacGeoghegan, on the frontiers of the County of Wicklow and Kildare; and he adds: “This noble tribe possessed another large tract of land in the vicinity of Dublin, on which part of the city has been built.”

Another branch of the O’Cullens, sometimes called Collins, are descended from Eogan, son of Olliol Ollum, son of Mogha Nudha, or Eogan the Splendid, of the race of Heber. The O’Cullens of this race, according to O’Halloran and others, were chiefs in the barony of Connell, in the County of Limerick. After the revolution of 1688 some of them went to France, where the name appears in the list of officers of the Irish Brigade.

There are many representative members of this family to-day in Ireland and in America, holding honorable and responsible positions. Among the latter may be mentioned the Hon. Edgar J. Cullen, Judge of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, a man who is universally acknowledged to be one of the ablest and most learned jurists in the United States, and whose integrity and standing in the community command the esteem and confidence of all classes of citizens. His brother, the late Henry J. Cullen, formerly Surrogate of Kings County, N. Y., was also a worthy representative of this ancient and respected family.

The McCullens, another branch of this family, were descended from Fiacha, ancestor of the Southern Hy Nials, and son of Nial the Great, or Nial of the Nine Hostages, King of Ireland, A. D. 379. The ancient name was Cuillen, and signifies “the Comrade.” The possessions of the sept were located in the present County of Donegal.

The McQuillans, of Antrim, one of the most prominent families of Ulster, were a branch of the McCullens. The McQuillans possessed the territory of the Routes which comprehended the baronies of Dunluce and Kilconway. In the reign of Elizabeth, Somharli Buidhe (Yellow Charles) McDonald, called by English writers Sorley Boy McDonnell, a chief from the Hebrides—descended from the ancient Irish of the race of Clan Colla, who had crossed over to Scotland, about the year 505— came with his forces and took possession of the Glynns, in the present County of Antrim. After many long and fierce battles with the McQuillans, the McDonnells made themselves masters of the country, and dispossessed the McQuillans. Dubourdieu, in his Survey of Antrim, says: “A lineal descendant of the chief McQuillan lives on the road between Belfast and Carrickfergus, near the silver stream, and probably enjoys more happiness as a respectable farmer than his ancestor did as a prince in those turbulent times.” The McQuillans had their chief seat at Dunluce.

The McQuillans were frequently engaged in hostilities with the O’Kanes and O’Neills. In 1580 James McDonnell, Lord of Cantire, sent his brother, Col. McDonald, to assist Tirconnell against the O’Neill. On his journey through the Route he was hospitably entertained by the McQuillan, of Dunluce, who was at that time at war with the men of Killeleragh beyond the Bann, in consequence of their frequent robberies of cattle. The day of McDonnell’s departure from the castle was selected for an expedition beyond the Bann, and, thinking that he was bound to make some return for the hospitality he had received, offered to accompany the McQuillan, with the assistance of the Highlanders. McQuillan gained a complete victory, and brought back double the number of the cattle that had been stolen. The winter approaching, McQuillan pressed his Highland guest to remain with him until the return of spring, offering at the same time to quarter his men up and down through the Route, equally with his own gallowglasses—that is, a Highlander and a gallowglass in every tenant’s house.

According to custom, the gallowglass was entitled to his ordinary ration and a mether of milk; the milk was denied to the Highland guest, which in one instance gave so much offense that a quarrel ensued between a gallowglass and one of McConnell’s men. The tenant in whose house this dispute about the milk occurred, refused to decide the question, but opened the door and said: “Sirs, go outside and fight it out in the fields, and let the victor take the milk.”

In the conflict that ensued the gallowglass was slain, and the Highlander returned and drank the milk; but McQuillan’s men having heard of the death of their comrade, agreed among themselves to slay each his Highland companion in one night. McDonnell, who had betrayed the hospitality of McQuillan by eloping with his daughter, whom he married, obtained information through her of the intended massacre. Warned by him, his men fled away secretly in the night time; and McDonnell having been reconciled to his father-in-law, lived upon friendly terms with him until his death, after which he claimed, in virtue of his wife, the Lordship of the McQuillan; but the nephew of this chieftain, who lived at Ballylough, set up a claim to the property, which gave rise to a fifty years’ war, until an appeal was made to James the First to decide the dispute. James decided in favor of his countryman, McDonnell, and added four baronies, including all poor McQuillan’s lands. To McQuillan he gave a grant of the barony of Innishowen, the territory of the O’Dogherty. This decision was made known to McQuillan by Sir John Chichester. McQuillan was sorely grieved to leave his ancient domains, and to retire into a country he deemed barbarous. Sir John, perceiving his discontent, cunningly turned it to his own account, and offered instead the lands of Clanahustie, lying nearer to his own territory, which he gladly accepted; and thus the Donegal family became possessed of these immense estates. McQuillan being unable to contract his hospitality to the limits of his fortune, soon sunk beneath his embarrassments, and this ancient and noble family soon lost their distinction in Ulster.