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Cullinane Sisters
17.

Waterford's Revolutionary Women 1916-1922

17. Cullinane Sisters
Bridget CullinaneNewtown, Kilmacthomas

The four Cullinane sisters of Newtown Kilmacthomas, were often referred to as the Rebel Sisters", eldest sister Mary (later Power) (referred to as Queen Rebel), Katie (Kent), Hannah Imelda (Power) and Bridget Cullinane. During the War of Independence and throughout the Civil War their home and business (Public House/Grocers) were the centre for dispatches in the area and a well-known safe house for Volunteers. The sisters acted as look out, gathered intelligence, hid and transported arms. According to the memoirs of the youngest of the sisters Hannah, Mary Cullinane managed and helped her mother Mary Phelan, with the running of the family business. In 1916, Mary became interested in national events and visited Dublin to attend Cumann na mBan conferences. On a visit to St Edna's she spoke with Miss Pearse and her sisters would eagerly await her rerun and listen closely to events happening in Dublin. In 1918, Kate Cullinane was nursing and during this period visited republican prisoners in the City Jails. Kate Cullinane's nursing training would later become an essential skill required for treating the sick and wounded volunteers in need of medical care.

Hannah CullinaneHannah recalls Mary's great organisation skills, setting up a Cumann na mBan group in Kilmacthomas and Kilrossanty, here the sisters met with like-minded women, the Keating's sisters of Comeragh. The families developed lifetime friendships with women of nationalist ideals and a strong sense of duty to the cause for Irish freedom. During the War of Independence, Katie Cullinane returned from nursing in London, Bridget from working in Dublin and events would become very hostile with regular hold up and raids on their home. Hannah recalls how there door was never really shut, as it would not stand the pounding and urgency of military raids. Mary was always first on the scene to any military raid be it day or night and the constant raids began to take their toll on the family business, events intensified with the arrival of the Black and Tans.

The sisters played a role following the Burgery Ambush in 1921, Mary Cullinane was engaged to volunteer Pat Keating who was shot by Soldiers and later died from his injuries following the Ambush. She was one of the first on the scene to collect his body from Monarud, Dungarvan. According to Hannah, a note had been placed in his top pocket for her, but she never disclosed to her sisters his lasts written words to Mary.

"My sister Bridget accompanied Mary with the coffin across the mountains, it was carried by Pats father miles to my grandmother's grave in Newtown and buried a few feet down, and there it was for three weeks. Then one night it was decided to move the remains, I was present when Pats body was taken out. I shall never forget that scene as they lifted the body the wound made by a dumb dumb bullet left an open jagged wound. In his clothes there were lumps of congealed bold and oh! The agony he must have suffered dragging his poor body along in that state. There was no stiffness in his body, he was washed by my nurse sister Katie and clothed in a blessed habit….his uniform is still with us."

Mary CullinaneFollowing the final burial of Pat Keating a group travelling by pony and trap including Mary, Kate Cullinane, Mary Keating and a number of volunteers met with a group of soldiers. Some of the party escaped, however Kate, Mary Cullinane, Mary Keating and several volunteers were arrested. Hannah recalls, when the pony arrived back at their gates at 3am they knew something was wrong. The women were held in the military barracks, Waterford for two days and then transferred to Waterford Jail. Kate Cullinane and Mary Keating were released after a couple of weeks. Mary Cullinane was sentenced to five years imprisonment for carrying and concealing arms, serving six months and was released December 1921. Following the siege of Waterford, Erskine Childers stayed at the family's home with many Officers and men of Cork and Tipperary Brigades. Hannah's final words "When Civil war came with attack on the four courts after that divide and conquer, disunity, insanity, chaos and imprisonment etc. As for the rebel sisters, for us it was another war and we were anti-treaty".

Eldest sister Mary Cullinane married Ned Power and on 10th October, 1933, died suddenly aged 37 suddenly leaving six young children, husband Ned Power died a few months later due to his treatment while imprisoned as a volunteer.

Catherine (Mother) Kent nee CullinaneNurse Katie Cullinane became Mrs Kent and her and her husband ran the family business, Katie lived to old age 95 in 1992 28th April. Hannah Imelda Cullinane married P.J and the family moved to Dublin, Dublin. Mrs Bridget Power nee Cullinane later lived in Waterford City and passed away on the 27th November 1992. Hannah Imelda married P.J Power died in 1991, her great friend Mai O'Higgins wrote a tribute to her. Following the final burial of Pat Keating a group travelling by pony and trap including Mary, Kate Cullinane, Mary Keating and a number of volunteers met with a group of soldiers. Some of the party escaped, however Kate, Mary Cullinane, Mary Keating and several volunteers were arrested. Hannah recalls, when the pony arrived back at their gates at 3am they knew something was wrong. The women were held in the military barracks, Waterford for two days and then transferred to Waterford Jail. Kate Cullinane and Mary Keating were released after a couple of weeks. Mary Cullinane was sentenced to five years imprisonment for carrying and concealing arms, serving 6 months and was released December 1921. Following the siege of Waterford, Erskine Childers stayed at the family's home with many Officers and men of Cork and Tipperary Brigades.

Hannah's final words "When Civil war came with attack on the four courts after that divide and conquer, disunity, insanity, chaos and imprisonment etc. As for the rebel sisters, for us it was another war and we were anti-treaty".

"Another incident during a military raid on our home, some of the boys had been in but got away. Some guns were to be hidden very quickly, and not much time, we had a young cousin staying with us at the time, Caith Culinnane. She was only five years old, we packed guns under her and told her to scream and cry when she saw military coming, it worked and the guns were safe"

 "It was Christmas day 1920, my mother was preparing the dinner and just as Mary and I got back from Mass we were standing at the door talking to an IRA man. Pat Keating had just gone out to visit another neighbour, Eddie Power was around too. Out of the Ford car came four men with plain clothes and caps H.T & W.U badges, just the real thing. We recognised Capt. Valentene. Before we could move he had gone into my mother and asked her quite casually as he placed the revolver beside her, where is Pat? She didn't recognise him and asked him to take the gun away and turned to little Caith and said go and get Pat Keating. However by now Pat and Eddie were safe and keenly watching events from the railway and waiting with bombs at the road to apprehend our military friends, but they did not go their direction. Raids continued and especially on Saturday nights our shop was cleared and men held for hours with their hands up."

Poem by Mai O'Higgins in tribute to Mrs Hannah Power (nee Cullinane) (6.6.1968)
Extract of poem

Ireland - she loved
Its language sweet upon her tongue
And in the long ago
When years were young
And the rebel blood courses through her veins
A patriot crown she won
Life's simple things she loved
To reminisce across the years
On Ireland wrongs- its joys and tears.
To be among old friends-
Around her loved Kilmac
Together we planned when summers days were nigh
To roam the Comeraghs by Crotty's rock
Under the evening sky.
Someday maybe- her wish for me comes true
By Crotty's rock I'll feel the joy she knew
Sleep gently on - on your soul- angels attend
I breathe a prayer, a Te Deum,
You are my friend

Ref: Memoirs of one of the Rebel Sisters, Hannah Imelda Power, Later, Mrs Paddy Joe Power. (Written early 1950's)

Author: Chrissy O'Connor Knight & Eddie Cantwell

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