Interview with Breda Cullen
Transcribed by Tony Nicoletti
On Sunday the 21st March, 1920, having left his sweetheart home to her house on Charlemont Street, Michael Cullen was making his way home travelling up by Gordon Place lane and out on to Richmond Street.
These were some of the last known steps Michael would ever take and exactly what happened next we will never know. But what we do know is that on this ill-fated date a young man and a woman, Eilen Hendrick, would both meet their fate as their young lives came to a tragic end at the hands of the notorious Black and Tans.
In this transcribed interview we talk to the niece of Michael, Breda Cullen, of her recollections about the incident and the tragic circumstances which unfolded that led to the death of the man who she fondly remembered as, Uncle Mickey.
Breda Cullen . . .
“Our story was,”
That Sunday night there was some film being shown in the Regal Rooms, now you mightn’t remember where that was . . . do you know where the department of health is now, in Hawkins Street? Well, that was what we called the Royal Theatre and beside it was a small picture house, the Regal Rooms. It was all Hatch Street, it’s where the busses all stopped now.
And there was some picture being shown of some battle that the British had won, I think it could’ve been 18 or whatever. But a group of the Tans were at it, and when they came out of there they were all cheering because they had won this battle, and of course this crowd was out cheering and OUR’s was waiting for them outside.
And that’s where the battle started. Now some of the high ranking (Black and Tans) got back into the theatre, but somehow somebody got away and up to Portobello, because there were no phones at the time as you know.
And there was a group (Black and Tans) coming from Portobello, whoever got up there was getting reinforcements. Now they could have went to another barracks as well.
But the Lord of Mercy on Uncle Mickey, in Charlemont Street there was a block of houses, small houses, he was after leaving from having been at the cinema and he had left a girl home to one of those houses.
Now the funny part was all he had to do when he left the girl there, was to go back up to Charlemont Street, around onto the Mall and into his house. But instead of that he went back down Gordon’s Lane and as he came to the top of Gordon Place Lane, he heard a car. People were screaming and he ran across to the Golden Vale Dairy which was only across the road because it had a kind of an open doorway. But as he was running from them (Black and Tans), that’s where they must’ve (shot him) . . . and that’s where he fell, outside the Golden Vale.
Now the girl (Eilen Hendrick) was coming out of a nursing home, Portobello House. I don’t think she was a nurse, but a maid. But that’s where she was coming out, and that’s where she fell.
Neighbours had heard (shots). When they looked out they saw the body and somebody, some neighbour, ran over.
But that was the way my mother and grandmother remembered it. They went to Kevin’s Church. We were all christened in Saint Kevin’s Church, and somebody ran around Lennox Street, Synge Street, and the priest came out and anointed the two of them.
But there would have been more causalities if the battle had of been on Richmond Street, there would have been more shot.
And by all accounts, I’ve never heard of another soldier been shot. There was, I think, a curfew but there wasn’t many out. People wondered what had happened.
My Mammy was married in eighteen (1918) and she lived over in Albert Place on the far side of the canal. But I don’t know whether she had left there and gone to Williams’s Place, or if she was back at her Mother’s, my Granny’s, for a while. My grandmother had three more in the family after Mickey, two of them were young men.
But Mammy had moved back over to Williams’s Place, now, it didn’t worry Mammy Cullen Mickey coming in Sunday night because he used to go to a pal. And Daddy Cullen was in that morning, reading the paper. But they said (the newspaper), I think they aged him at 40 (Michael) and he had red hair. So needless to say, that was Mickey.
Mammy Cullen went to mass at 10 O’clock and of course they were all talking and the priest told her about Michael. It was the talk of the day as you know. So then Tuesday morning Daddy Cullen had the same paper and it was all something else and Mammy Cullen kind of knew because he didn’t come in on Sunday night.
But by say, Thursday, there was a photograph in the paper of Mr and Mrs Cullen coming out of the Meath Hospital after identifying their son.
But it was a different Mr and Mrs Cullen from Masterson’s Lane. They were after been in visiting somebody and other neighbours said, ah we’re sorry to hear about (Michael), they were saying to sorry to whoever they were visiting. And the cameras were outside the hospital.
While it went into Thursday morning Mammy Cullen was really getting worried about what happened, there was no word. And how they identified him was a little piece in the newspaper of a young man still waiting to be identified.
He had a patch on the left knee, or the right, I don’t know which, the size of a two shilling piece. Daddy Cullen read that, he looked around, the ramble (cloth) was on the floor, she’d (Mrs Cullen) only put it on that night.
She was very neat yarning and sewing, and she used to say, ‘a stitch in time will save nine’ and she’d put the little patch on, and that’s how they knew it was him. But it was definitely three or four days before he was identified in the Meath Hospital.
TN: Was there any inquiry into it Michaels Death?
Oh yes, there was a big inquiry and they got money out of it. What they got now how much, I don’t know. But Mammy didn’t get any, it was only Josie, Tom and Paddy, because they were single, and they got the few bob. Now, it wasn’t a lot, but a lot at the time, you know that kind of a way. To nowadays it was pittance, but it was a fortune to them.
Paddy was the youngest, Tom was the next, and Josie, but they weren’t married and that’s how they got the money, but Mammy didn’t.
TN: Where is Michael buried?
Mickey is buried in Glencullen, Johnny Foxes. If you want I’ll show you, but you would miss the grave if you wished to go out to Johnny Foxes. It’s a broken down graveyard, you can’t get any information because at the time you had to dig your own grave.
But, the lord of Mercy on Uncle Leo, he was the eldest, he was after burying a little girl, and he had opened a grave. Leo’s grave is just in from the wall and there’s a headstone on it. And Leo Cullen is on it, Mickey’s name is also on it.
TN: according to official records I think that they said he was shot on March 2nd?
On the 2nd, no, I think they have a mistake, I made it out and he was shot on Sunday the 21st, March, 1920. I’d say he would have been 21.
Later it always puzzled me was shot in 21, or was he 21 and he was shot in 20.
Mickey was going with this girl and I used to say it to mammy, she then said after as time went on, needless to say mammy was broken hearted, but as time went on she would say well it was meant to be that he came this way. All he had to do was come up where Charlemont Street is. I don’t know if you remember Mary Blacks Mother, well it’s in one of those houses he left the girlfriend, because I remember the shops and Masterson’s Lane.
There was Dinny Burns and there was a chemist. Now Dinny burns shop was like an off-licence and a grocery, a big shop. Then there was the opening for Masterson’s lane, then there was a shop called the Golddriffs, now I don’t know what it was at that time. Then there were a couple of other shops and houses that went in with a garden, and that’s where he (Mickey) was leaving.
Now over there (on Richmond Street) when you come down a bit on this side as you turn around from Quinlands the shops went in a bit. There was a little bootmakers and then here there was a vegetable shop. My younger brothers and the other young fellas they used to call he Juicy’O, they’d nicknames on them all. There was Doyles paper-shop and then came saint Ultan’s.
Then beyond that then there was the big Georgian houses that went in, they were called Terro terrace, then you came up to the bridge. That’s how I always remember them, coming around from Searsons, Searsons and what we called the tenements. There was the pawn office then there was the houses down as far as what we called the cabbage gardens.
Some of them neighbours, it was Mrs Carroll who laid out Mickey and my grandfather. Grandfather and grandmother and also in Glenncullenn.
There’s a new graveyard a few yards up, they keep it, and Leo’s wife is buried up there with her son, she didn’t go into the old grave. They all had to dig their own grave. When they went out it was an awful hike. At the end of the hill we all had to get out of the mourning couches, as the men had to push the hearse up and the lord of mercy on my grandmother, she didn’t go to daddy Cullen’s funeral, she said no, because she didn’t want to see Mickey’s grave.
When it came to uncle Leo, he died in 1946 and she didn’t want to go to his funeral, she said no, so I had another another uncle Jack and his nephew was after getting a car and he said if we get a car will you come, she said yes, so he brought her and they were able to get right up to the graveyard. There were no morning funerals, believe it or not the mass was said later after the funeral.
But when she came home from Uncle Leo’s, she said ‘I’ll be the next for Glencullen, Mickey is waiting for me.’
That is my end of the story.
 Michael’s hair was fair, not red, the red was blood.