Accused of being a Fenian

Hilary Murphy

The Cullimores were one of the principal peace-loving Quaker families of Wexford, so it was ironic, indeed sensational, that one prominent member, Joseph Cullimore of Taghmon, was arraigned for allegedly recruiting for the militant Fenian organisation in 1867. On 25th February of that year, he was arrested by Sub-Inspector Philip G. Robinson, who swore to the court as follows:

'I have good reason to believe and do believe that Joseph Cullimore, Taghmon, is now, and has been for a considerable time past, a Fenian agent.' The 'informations' were sworn before Strangman Davis Goff, J.P., who indicted Mr. Cullimore on the charge.

Taghmon Petty Sessions

The People newspaper reported that Mr. Cullimore was then conducted to the County Gaol, where he was confined until the following Thursday, awaiting the further hearing of the case at Taghmon Petty Sessions. The magistrates on the bench were - Francis A. Leigh (presiding); S. D. Goff; T. Dennehy, R.M.; Peter Stafford and Jonas King.

The court and approaches leading to it were thronged, and those who could not gain admission remained outside anxiously awaiting the result of the hearing. 'Everyone sympathised with Mr. Cullimore and expressed concern for the painful position he occupied,' The People reported.

As Mr. Cullimore's case was about to be called, Sub-Inspector Robinson asked the magistrates to have the court cleared of all persons not concerned in the case, claiming that he might get more out of the accused if the case was heard in private. The application was refused.

Five Local Witnesses

Sub-Inspector Robinson said he had no evidence to offer from himself, and that he intended proving his case by witnesses. Five local men were called to the stand - Patrick Furlong, Knockbawn, Sigginshaggard; John Tobin, Taghmon; Peter Gorman, Darby Ryan, Taghmon, and Mogue Byrne, Poulmarle.

The five of them admitted to be being members of a music band and that they practiced regularly in Mr.Cullimore's house. Others in the band included, John Walsh, Richard Wickham, John Cullimore, Joseph Cullimore (the accused), and several more. The teacher was Sergeant Smith of the Wexford Militia.

Witnesses Cross-examined

Sub-Inspector Robinson's case was that Joseph Cullimore had asked the witnesses to join the Fenian society, but they strenuously denied this. Each of them was asked - 'If a person swore that you were present when he asked another party to become a member of the Fenian society, would it be true or false?' The five replied that it would be false. They also denied being told by Mr. Cullimore, or ever hearing, that he had purchased rifles in Dublin.

John Tobin denied hearing of a list of names being prepared for transmission to the Fenian authorities by Mr. Cullimore. Asked if he ever heard Mr. Cullimore expressing an opinion about Fenianism, John Tobin replied, 'Yes, I heard him say it was sheer madness.'

Peter Gorman swore that he never knew of Mr. Cullimore to have rifles in his house. Asked why he was in the habit of frequenting Mr. Cullimore's house, Darby Ryan said it was for mere pastime, for no illegal purpose. 'No man can stay in his own house always,' he said, explaining that they played music, read papers, books, etc.
Sub-Inspector Robinson - 'Did you ever hear from Mr. Cullimore that he was in receipt of money from James Stephens?'
'No, I never did, but there were ill-natured people in Taghmon who made such remarks.'
'Did Joseph Cullimore ever ask you to become a Fenian?'
'Never, but once, and that was when we were drinking together, and I am sure he did not mean it. Mogue Byrne was present at the time, but Mogue was drunk, and Peter Gorman, Mr. Cullimore's clerk, was in and out bringing us punch.'
'Did you ever know of a list of names being in preparation by Mr. Cullimore, of a certain number of men in this neighbourhood, to be sent to James Stephens, or to the office of the Irish People?'
'I never knew of any such thing. I don't recollect having spoken of the circumstance of Mr. Cullimore asking me to become a Fenian till about a week ago; I spoke of it to some parties, and it came to the ears of the police.'

Darby Ryan's Statement

Darby Ryan then asked permission to make a statement, which he did as follows:

'I have always heard Mr. Cullimore denounce Fenianism, in the strongest terms; in fact, I never heard him ask anyone to become a Fenian, only on the one occasion I mentioned, and then I am sure he did not mean it. I often heard him say that Fenianism would ruin him and everyone like him in the country; that his house and every man's house with property would be robbed, and that no man should join it. I never knew him to sympathise with the Fenian movement in the slightest degree.'

Mogue Byrne said he couldn't remember being in Mr. Cullimore's house on any particular night in December, in company with Darby Ryan; it was very likely that he was. He could only remember that he was drunk there one night, but he could not say whether it was in December or not.

Mr. Cullimore's solicitor, Mr. Flaherty, submitted that some ill- natured persons had spread those injurious reports, and the police were bound to inquire into the matter, but if Sub-Inspector Robinson had taken the trouble of asking his witnesses a few questions, he could have learned that Mr. Cullimore was a constant denouncer of Fenianism.

Sub-Inspector Robinson interjected that one man (Darby Ryan) had sworn that Mr. Cullimore asked him to become a Fenian. Mr. Flaherty replied, 'Yes, but the only sober man who was present - Peter Gorman - swears that he never heard the like, and it is most improbable that he ever used the words.'

The Verdict

Mr. Flaherty offered to call witnesses for the defence, including the band-master, Sergt. Smith, but the Magistrates ruled that there was no necessity to go into the case further. The People reported that there were several gentlemen present, Protestant as well as Catholic, ready to testify to the respectability of Mr. Cullimore's character.

The hearing concluded with the chairman of the court telling Mr. Cullimore: 'It is the unanimous decision of the bench that there are no grounds to sustain the charge against you, and that you leave this court without a stain on your character.'

The announcement was received in court with three loud cheers.


The People, 7th February 1867.