Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane: An Exile’s Return

In the last post, we looked at the events surrounding the 1867 Fenian rebellion in Ballymacoda, in particular the successful raid on the coastguard station at Knockadoon, led by John McClure and Peter O’Neill Crowley, and O’Neill Crowley’s subsequent death at the hands of the crown forces at Kilclooney wood. Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane was a member of the party that raided the coastguard station, this is the story of his exile after the rising and his later return to Ballymacoda.

After the rising of March 5th, Cullinane was tried along with McClure, Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly and David Joyce, on the charge of high treason in front of a Special Commission in Cork. At the trial, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Monahan, Mr. Justice Keogh, and Mr. Justice George, all four were initially sentenced to death at the conclusion of the proceedings on May 24th 1867. The sentence passed down by Lord Chief Justice Monahan was for each of the men to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This medieval punishment had been the statutory penalty for anyone convicted of the crime of high treason against the English crown from 1352 onwards, and was not abolished until 1870.

It only now remains with me to pass the awful sentence of the law upon you, and that sentence is that you and each of you be taken hence from this place from whence you came, and that you shall be from thence drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until each of you be dead, that afterwards your heads be severed from your bodies and that your bodies be divided into four parts, and that those parts be disposed of as her Majesty or her successors shall think fit. This sentence shall be carried into execution on Wednesday, the 19th of June.

The sentence handed down to McClure, Cullinane, Kelly and Joyce by Chief Justice Monahan, on May 25th 1867 at the Special Commission sitting in Cork.

After lobbying efforts by a group of prominent citizens and large protests across Ireland against the execution of the Fenian rebels, the death sentences handed down to many of those involved in the Fenian rising, including McClure, Cullinane, Kelly and Joyce, were commuted to life imprisonment.

Entry in the Irish Prison Register for Thomas Cullinane, listing his crime of high treason

Cullinane was first imprisoned in England, at Millbank Prison in Westminster, London. In October 1867, records show that he was transported to Australia, departing from London on October 12th aboard the prison ship Hougoumont under master William Cozens. The voyage lasted 89 days, with the vessel arriving in Western Australia on January 10th 1868, and was of particular historical significance in that it was the last convict ship to carry Irish prisoners to Australia. David Joyce and Edward Kelly were aboard the same ship, as well as another Ballymacoda native, Jeremiah (Jerry) Aher, who had received a 7 year sentence for his part in the raid of the coastguard station at Knockadoon.

The Fenian prisoners, approximately 62 of the 289 convicts that arrived aboard Hougoumont, were taken to Fremantle Prison. After being allowed a few days rest, the prisoners were taken in groups to commence the hard labor of road building in searing temperatures outside Fremantle. The Fenian workgroups were segregated from general prison population. At times the men were lodged in road camps and required to stay close to the site of their work away from the prison. Patrick Wall, another Fenian who was transported on the Hougoumont described the conditions in a letter to his parents. Thomas Cullinane was very likely in one of these working groups, as there were only six Fenians assigned to permanent duties in the prison which required them to stay at Fremantle, and he was not one of that group.

On last Saturday evening we were marched five miles with bed and bedding on our backs, to our rude habitation, which consists of four miserable twig huts and a tent. I sleep with twelve others in the tent. We are sure of nocturnal visits from mosquitoes, and a species of very small lively insect which takes the greatest delight in playing with you until morning, waiting for the next night’s entertainment to renew the sport. We work pretty hard all day under a burning sun; the only comfort the place affords us is that we are near the sea shore, where we bathe after our day’s labor.

Description of the conditions in a Fenian workgroup, described by Patrick Wall in a letter to his parents, quoted in newspaper ‘The Irishman’ in April 1868.

The convict records available for Fremantle Prison record Thomas Cullinane as ‘Thomas Bowler‘, prisoner number 9671. His record also mentions as a note, ‘character bad‘, and records ‘mutinous conduct‘ in February 1869 for which he was sentenced to 7 days bread and water. In early May 1869, Cullinane and other Fenian prisoners were granted an official pardon, signed by the Home Secretary, Henry Austin Bruce. This was mainly due to the sustained campaign for a Fenian amnesty at home in Ireland. Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane was mentioned specifically in the text of the pardon.

I have the honor to inform you that Her Majesty’s Govt. have decided upon granting a Remission to Thomas Cullinane or Bowler and the other prisoners named in the accompanying Warrant under the Royal Sign Manual, who were convicted of Treason or Treason Felony in Ireland and who are now under sentence of Penal Servitude in Western Australia.

Partial text of the pardon of the Fenian exiles, a link to the full text is available in the references below.

Upon his release, records show that Cullinane first travelled to Sydney in New South Wales aboard the ship Rangatira on September 21st 1869, then to London aboard the Suffolk on October 26th.

Excerpt from The Freeman’s Journal, February 1870 mentioning the return of Fenian prisoners, including Thomas Cullinane

Some time after his release, Cullinane travelled to America where he was to remain until returning to Ballymacoda in 1910. I have found little trace of his activities in America. There are three main reasons as to why the records are difficult to trace. Firstly, Cullinane was known to use the alias ‘Bowler’, which he may also have used in America. Secondly, records of the day use many alternative spellings of his last name e.g. ‘Cullinan’. Finally, it is very difficult to conclusively determine a birth year due to conflicting references, which would be useful for filtering US naturalization records etc. for Cullinane:

  • His headstone says he died in March 1928, aged 84 (giving a birth year 1843 or 1844).
  • His convict record from Australia lists his birth year as 1844.
  • His death record from ‘Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958‘ lists his age at death as 88 (giving a birth date of 1839 or 1840).
  • Newspaper sources mentioning his return to Ireland from June 1910 give his age as 72 (giving a birth year of 1837 or 1838).
  • The Irish prison register entry for June 1867 lists his age as 22 (giving a birth year of 1844 or 1845).
  • The 1911 Census of Ireland taken in early April lists his age as 73 (giving a birth year of 1837 or 1838).
  • Searching the Ballymacoda & Ladysbridge Parish baptismal records for Thomas Cullinane yielded no matches, however some records are barely legible given the age of the documents.

Regardless of his life in America, which as mentioned above is difficult to piece together, there are numerous sources that confirm Thomas Cullinane returned to Ballymacoda in 1910. He was unmarried, and planned to spend the rest of his days living with his sister Johanna (O’Brien) in Ballymakeigh. Newspaper sources from the time indicate that there was a homecoming event for Cullinane in Ballymacoda, with this description being published:

Though he had been a long time away, his heart always reverted to the land for which he strove so nobly, and lately he returned to his native district of Ballymacoda. To signalize the homecoming and to give him a welcome worthy of his patriotic record a meeting was held in Ballymacoda last week. A platform, over which Stars and Stripes floated, was erected for the proceedings, which were marked with the greatest enthusiasm.

Description of the homecoming of Thomas Cullinane, published widely at the time (this instance from ‘The Courier-Journal’, Louisville, Kentucky, June 26th, 1910).
Excerpt from The Irish Standard, July 2nd 1910 mentioning the return of Thomas Cullinane

The 1911 Census of Ireland confirms Thomas as living with his sister Johanna at Ballymakeigh.

1911 Census of Ireland record showing Thomas Cullinane

Thomas Cullinane died on March 18th 1928 and is buried in the Hill Cemetery in Ballymacoda.

The grave of Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane, at the Hill Cemetery, Ballymacoda

References & Further Information

The Gaelic American – Vol. III No. 24 June 16, 1906, Whole Number 144, Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library

Claim a Convict, details for the ship Hougoumont (1868)

Fremantle Prison Convict Database

A Gerringong Fenian, The Story of John O’Neil Goulding and the 1867 Kerry Uprising by John Graham, Published 1999

The Great Amnesty Campaign of 1869, Irish History Podcast

Convict Records available on UNE, the repository for research outputs of the University of New England at Armidale, NSW Australia

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Prison Registers, 1790-1924 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA:

Historic Graves, Thomas Bowler Cullinane

The Freeman’s Journal, published in Dublin, February 2nd, 1870

The Irish Standard, Saturday July 2nd, 1910

Full text of the Royal pardon granted to Thomas Cullinane and other Irish convicts under sentence of penal servitude in Western Australia

Amos, K., The Fenians in Australia, 1865-1880, Sydney, 1988

Peter O’Neill Crowley and the 1867 Fenian Rising

The Fenian rising of March 1867 was yet another attempt to remove the shackles of foreign oppression. After the 1798, 1803, and 1848 rebellions, it was the fourth failed rebellion in 70 years. In this post, we’ll focus on the events of 1867 as they relate to Ballymacoda, and one of its most famous sons – the Fenian leader and Irish patriot Peter O’Neill Crowley.

Peter O’Neill Crowley was born in Ballymacoda on May 23rd, 1832 into a respectable farming family. Through his mother, he was a grand-nephew of Fr. Peter O’Neill, the Ballymacoda parish priest flogged at Youghal in 1798 and later deported to Botany Bay. After his father died when he was still quite young, Peter O’Neill Crowley came under the influence of his grand-uncle, and acknowledged later in life that his involvement with the Fenian’s was inspired by his grand-uncle. The young O’Neill Crowley was well known and respected in Fenian circles, and was known to be a man of principle and a strict pioneer. In time, he became the leader of the reportedly 100-strong group of Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) members in the Ballymacoda area.

On Tuesday March 5th, the day of the rebellion, O’Neill Crowley and John McClure, an American born veteran of the Civil War, led a party to raid the coastguard station at Knockadoon, with the objective being to secure the cache of weapons located there. Among the raiding party were Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane, Jerry Aher, David Joyce and Thomas Walsh. The raid was successful, with the weapons being secured and the coastguards disarmed without a single shot being fired. Taking the coastguards hostage, the group then marched towards Killeagh with the prisoners, expecting to join up with other units from Youghal and Midleton. However, this didn’t materialize as planned, with only a handful of men being present at the meeting place when the party from Ballymacoda arrived. The group of rebels from Midleton had earlier been involved in a battle with the police in Castlemartyr while attempting to raid the barracks there, where the leader of the group, Timothy Daly had been shot and killed.

McClure made the decision to disband all unarmed men, and march with the remaining men and prisoners towards Castlemartyr, where the prisoners were released. Having observed a large group of crown forces at Mogeely about to commence a search of the area, O’Neill Crowley, McClure and others decided to march north in an attempt to merge with other pockets of fighters in the Munster region. While the raid on the coastguard station at Knockadoon was successful – John Devoy called it ‘the neatest job done by the Fenians in the Rising‘ – the wider rising was a failure, and soon the party from Ballymacoda was on the run, eventually reaching Kilclooney wood near Mitchelstown. The group spent a few weeks taking refuge in the wood until being engaged by the British on the morning of Sunday March 31st, 1867, three weeks after the rising. The British had reportedly received information that the group was hiding there, and that same problem that always plagued rebellions and rebel groups throughout Irish history – informers – was to cause the death of O’Neill Crowley.

On the morning of the 31st, Kilclooney wood was surrounded by an estimated 120+ British soldiers, made up of members of the Sixth Carbineers, two companies of the Sixth Warwickshire infantry and a company of Royal Engineers. The men were commanded by Major Bell. A gun battle ensued, with the Fenian group hopelessly outnumbered. O’Neill Crowley was initially badly wounded when he was hit by a bullet which broke a finger on one hand. A group of soldiers began to advance towards the wood, while the rest kept it surrounded from all sides to prevent escape of the group of rebels. McClure and O’Neill Crowley were captured together, attempting to cross a river, O’Neill Crowley was shot and fatally wounded as he attempted to cross. He was attended to by an army surgeon, and a priest was sent for to administer last rites before he died. He was aged just 34, a few months shy of 35.

The priest who administered the last rites, Rev. T. O’Connell, at the time curate in nearby Kildorrery, described the scene he witnessed that morning in 1867 in The Irish Standard 20 years later:

A few particulars in connection with the last moments of Peter O’Neill Crowley may not be uninteresting to your numerous readers at the present moment. I can well recall the memorable morning in March, ’67, when I was hastily summoned to administer to the patriot the last rites of that church which he loved so well. On my arrival at Kilclooney Wood, I found Dr. Segrave, surgeon to the flying column, busily engaged in staunching the wound with one hand, whilst from a prayer book in the other he read aloud – at the young man’s request – the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus. I was greatly touched by the scene, and especially by the exclamation – ‘Thank God – all is right now’, and then turning to the doctor he said ‘Thank you very much, the priest is come, leave me to him’. I saw at once the critical condition of the brave soul, whose heart’s blood was ebbing fast away. I saw that there was no time to lose, and having made him as comfortable as circumstances would permit, by means of the soldiers knapsacks, I then and there, surrounded by the military and police, administered the last sacraments. The fervor and devotion for which he prepared for death – though suffering very much – were most striking, and made on me an indelible impression. His lively faith and firm hope coupled with, if I might so write, his true heroism, so affected me that I could have wished myself in his place. It was whilst kneeling by his side and whispering to him words of consolation that he gave expression with his dying lips to that noble sentiment – one well worthy of Saint Lawrence O’Toole – ‘Father, I have two loves in my heart – one for my religion, the other for my country. I am dying today for the fatherland. I could die as cheerfully for faith’.

Rev. T. O’Connell, by then P.P. in Castlemartyr, describes administering the last rites to O’Neill Crowley, The Irish Standard, May 28th 1887
Depiction of the death of O’Neill Crowley, from the monument in Kilclooney

Peter O’Neill Crowley’s body was removed to a workhouse in nearby Mitchelstown, and a short inquest followed which found ‘The deceased was shot by troops whilst in the execution of their duty‘. His body was released to his sister, and brought to Ballymacoda for burial beside his grand-uncle Fr. Peter O’Neill in the churchyard. His funeral cortege was reported to be comprised of thousands of mourners, but it is impossible to get accurate figures. Numerous sources also indicate that his coffin was shouldered all the way from Mitchelstown to Ballymacoda, stopping overnight to rest in Killeagh.

O’Neill Crowley’s Grave in the churchyard in Ballymacoda, marked by a large Celtic Cross

Over the years numerous commemorations have taken place at Kilclooney, notably in 1898 when a memorial was erected (re-erected in 1960), at the 100 anniversary of the battle in 1967 and in the year 2000 when Derek Warfield, historian and ex-leader of the Wolfe Tones group was the guest speaker. A new viewing station was unveiled at Kilclooney Wood in 2013, in advance of the commemoration held in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary. Peter O’Neill Crowley is also commemorated in numerous parts of Cork and further afield:

  • O’Neill Crowley Terraces in Ballymacoda, in Castlemartyr, and in Mitchelstown.
  • Peter O’Neill Crowley Bridge (formerly George IV Bridge) on the Carrigrohane road in Cork city.
  • O’Neill Crowley statue at the National Monument on Grand Parade in Cork city, erected to commemorate the Irish patriots who died during the period 1798 – 1867.
  • O’Neill Crowley Street in Youghal.
  • O’Neill Crowley Quay in Fermoy.
  • Peter O’Neill Crowley Gaelic Athletic Club formed in the Clonard area of Belfast in 1902 – they went on to win two Antrim Senior Hurling titles in 1903 and 1907.
Plaque at the viewing station in Kilclooney, erected 2013

The memory of O’Neill Crowley is also captured in the folk songs ‘Erin’s Lovely Lee‘, and ‘Peter Crowley‘, recordings of which are available in the collection of the Clare County Library (see references for links).

Peter O’Neill Crowley memorial on the National Monument on Grand Parade.

The Fenian leader John Devoy said of O’Neill Crowley: “Peter O’Neill Crowley was one of the best men in the Fenian Movement, and Ireland never gave birth to a truer or more devoted son. His devotion to the cause of Irish liberty was sublime and his courage dauntless“. It would be difficult to disagree with this opinion.

Peter O’Neill Crowley’s Gaelic Athletic Club, Belfast 1902

In a future post, we’ll look at the aftermath of the 1867 rebellion, in particular what became of the other protagonists from the Ballymacoda area who took part in the rebellion.

References and Further Information

Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda / Ladysbridge Community Council Historical Society

Fenian Heroes & Martyrs, John Savage, Published by Patrick Donahoe, 1868

The Irish Standard, May 28th 1887

Recollections of an Irish Rebel, A Personal Narrative, By John Devoy.

Erin’s Lovely Lee, recording captured in the Carroll Mackenzie Collection at Clare County Library collection

Peter Crowley, recording captured in the Carroll Mackenzie Collection at Clare County Library collection

Kilclooney Wood and Peter O’Neill-Crowley, Micheál Ó’h0Aonghusa, 2012