Cullen – descended from the son of the holy man

History of the Irish name Cullen. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Cullen is an ancient Irish surname that is associated with being ‘holy’. It originated in West Munster some time before the 8th century.

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It remains a popular surname in Munster, particularly Co Cork, and is also one of the most common names in Ireland.

The name Cullen derives from the old Gaelic name O’Cuilleannain. There are several variations of the name including, Cullinan, Cullinane, MacCullen, Cullion, Culhoun, O’Cullinane and Quillinane.

The ‘O’ prefix of the original O’Cuilleannain surname indicated that the person was a ‘grandson of’ or a descendent of’. However, this could also mean a follower or fellow member of the clan and not necessarily a direct relative.

The Calf Goddess

Cuilleannain was the first name of the head of the clan. His name consists of two old Gaelic words. Firstly, ‘Cuileann’ which means ‘Holy’ and ‘Ain’ which was another way of saying ‘son of’. So the O’Cuilleannains were ‘Descendants of the son of the holy man’.

The O’Cuilleannain clan was a member of the Corca Laoidhe. The Corca Laoidhe translates as ‘Families of the Calf Goddess’. It was a kingdom that comprised many clans that all had their own territories.

The Corca Laoidhe Kingdom covered the area of South West Munster and the O’Cuilleannains territory within that was the barony of Barryroe in County Cork.

The Cullens spread across Ireland

Over the years, the O’Cuilleannain clan grew and split into several septs, or branches. Some of these septs moved north to Co Clare and East to Co Waterford. The Waterford sept became known as the Quillinanes.

Over time they spread further east into the Leinster province and settled in Co Wicklow. They became a prominent clan in Wicklow for years but were eventually driven out by the O’Toole and the O’Byrne clans.

Other septs spread further across Leinster and established themselves in both Co Wexford and Co Kildare. Both counties have towns named after the Cullen, Cullenstown in Wexford and Kilcullen in Kildare.

Ireland’s first cardinal

Cardinal Paul Cullen
Cardinal Paul Cullen

Another sept travelled north all the way to Co Donegal. They became an important sept in the Mullinashee area and changed their name to Cullen.

Aptly, for a family named after the son of a holy man, the Cullens were prominent in the clergy. Cormac Mac Cuilleannain was both the King and Bishop of Cashel. He compiled the ‘Psalter of Cashel’ which was a genealogical tract. Cormac died in battle in 908 AD.

In 1852, the Archbishop of Dublin, Paul Cullen became Ireland’s first cardinal. He was responsible for helping to establish the ‘Romanisation’ of the Catholic Church in Ireland. This involved placing more emphasis on the authority of the Pope rather than regional authority.

Liscarton Castle was once home to the relatives of Cardinal Paul Cullen. The Cullens built several castles and mansions in Ireland over the years.

Famous Cullens

Max Cullen is an actor from Wellington, New South Wales, Australia. He has appeared in several films in a career that has spanned five decades. He has appeared in movies such as The Great Gatsby, Sunday to Far Away and My Brilliant Career.

His daughter Katherine is also an accomplished actor.

Kiro Cullen is a musician from Germany. She is best known as the bass player for German Glam rock band Cinema Bizarre.

The family of vampires in the Twilight movie franchise was named Cullen.

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Irish names and their meanings

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