John Cullen, Lord of the Lough, time in the army and his court martial

Kishing was ordered for a jury when it failed to reach a verdict (art by Kilkenny artist John Walsh)

This week Cois Céim, in association with The Saturday walkers group explain the term ‘kishing’ that was very much part of the Kilkenny vocabulary in the 1700’s.
The last ‘kishing’ was done in Kilkenny in 1780. Kishing was ordered for a jury when it failed to reach a verdict. The jury was taken in horse drawn carts to the outskirts of the city and toppled out onto the road. And left to make their own way home.

John Cullen was one of the characters who lived in the Walkin Street area,

and was said to have been fairly well educated. His parents were of a comfortable position in life.

In a drunken fit he enlisted in the local regiment of the Army, and some years

later, whilst stationed in Cork, was convicted before a court martial of singing treasonable songs, which encouraged a French invasion of Ireland.

Cullen was sentenced to receive 300 lashes at the triangle, which so lacerated his back he lost his reason. After 12 months in hospital he was discharged as an incurable maniac.

On his return to Kilkenny he found every relative of his had died, and so came to depend on the goodwill of his neighbours.


He was a regular attendant at the bonfires, wakes, cockfights, and all such gatherings. He came to be recognised as a master of ceremonies and called himself the Lord of the Lough.

Cullen was arrested and charged with encouraging people at a wake to sing a disloyal ballad named God Damn George King. The Lord of the Lough took his place in the dock. The court clerk read the charge and asked him how he pleaded,” Not Guilty “came the reply, and drawing himself to an erect position in the dock, addressed the Judge. “My Lord, the constitution of this realm guarantees to an accused man, he be tried by his peers. Now you are a Lord and I am another. High as your titles are, mine are as high.”

Who are you, asked the Judge, what are your titles? To which Jack responded “I am the Lord of the Lough, Earl of the Lighthouse, and Commander in chief of all the women of the Lake”.

The Judge in amazement enquired from the clerk what was the meaning of all this. The prisoner, the clerk stated, is the common town fool and this great crowd have gathered to enjoy the amusement he would create.

Who sent this creature for trial? Enquired the Judge?

“I did”, said the Mayor.

“He cursed the King, and worse than that he half killed my head bailiff.”, continued the mayor.

Turning to the gaol governor, he ordered the release of Cullen, stating “it makes little difference to the King whether he curses or blesses him. I cannot permit this court of Justice to be turned into a burlesque”.


The Lord of the Lough was liberated and carried in triumph on the shoulders of the boys of the town.

Two more were arraigned for trial on the same charge and before the same Judge later that year. The two prisoners were tried together. After an investigation and elaborate charge from the Judge, the jury were unable to agree. The judge remanded them three times to reconsider the evidence. They still persisted in their disagreement. This so irritated the Judge, he ordered the jurors to be “kished “ The ceremony was then performed, two potato carts furnished with high kishes were taken from the market place to the Thosel.

Six of the jurors were placed in each kish.


The judge taking his place in his carriage, attended by a military escort.

The jurors were paraded through the town, then driven to the stream at the gate of Sir Charles Cuffes on the Dublin road. Here the procession halted and the Judge addressing the jurors in the most insulting language, accusing them of incapacity to discharge their duties. He next ordered the owners of the carts to discharge their loads outside of the City liberty. The farmers loosened the braces of their carts and tumbled the jurors into the dust of the road. The Judge returning in great pomp to the City.

This was the last jury that was ‘kished’ in Kilkenny, a custom that ceased in the 1820’s.

Cullen was sentenced to receive 300 lashes at the triangle, which so lacerated his back he lost his reason. (An artist’s impression)
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