A final farewell to ‘General Jim’ at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
He was played in by a lone piper, played out by an army bugler’s rendering of “Taps.”
James P. Cullen, “General Jim” to his many friends, was remembered and eulogized today at a funeral Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.
Just a few months ago, the retired army brigadier general, and in recent times president of Friends of Sinn Féin, had sat under the same soaring, vaulted, roof at the memorial Mass for his friend Martin McGuinness.
Cullen’s Mass was viewable in Martin McGuinness’s native Derry.
Chief celebrant, Monsignor Robert Ritchie, Rector of St. Patrick’s, told the large congregation that the Mass was being live streamed and was being followed in Jim Cullen’s beloved Ireland.
Monsignor Ritchie asked those faraway viewers to pray for a man whose love for Ireland had always been evident throughout his life and career.
That life ended on Friday last, December 8, when Jim Cullen succumbed to an illness he had been battling in recent months.
He was 72, and while his was a life well and fully lived there was as sense among those in the cathedral that here was a man who had gone from us too soon.
Delivering the eulogy, Cullen’s friend Mike Berman spoke of that full life, of a man who had advised world leaders and had helped shape policy.
He told his listeners of a photo of Jim Cullen with President Barack Obama taken on the day of Obama’s inauguration in January, 2009.
Cullen was present for Obama’s signing of a series of executive orders banning torture and reviewing detention policies.
Cullen’s attendance in the Oval Office that day was due to the fact that he was one of eight retired army generals and navy admirals who had taken a public stand against torture after the emergence of photos of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004.
That initial grouping would ultimately grow to more than 200 generals and flag officers.
Mike Berman, with a smile, said that had John McCain been elected president in 2008, Jim Cullen would have been in an Oval Office photo on inauguration day, only this time with a president named McCain.
James Cullen, who began an army career in 1969 as a private, this after graduating from law school, would rise to the rank of Brigadier General in the army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
While his post-army career would be as an attorney specializing in real estate, Cullen would became widely known as a human rights champion, most especially through his work with the organization Human Rights First.
If you were in trouble, said Berman, “Jim’s phone number was one you needed to have.”
“He was trusted by his friends,” said Berman.
“Some trusted him with their fortunes, some trusted him with their lives.”
Cullen, who had been mentored by New York legal and political icon, Paul O’Dwyer, had started his career, said Berman, in an established old law firm somewhat set in its ways.
But the young attorney was determined to have his way in one crucial matter.
He would start his job with a full four weeks of vacation, “two weeks for the army, and two weeks for Ireland.”
And the army remembered.
His flag-draped coffin was carried into St. Patrick’s by army pallbearers and down the front steps after Mass to a sunny but chilly Fifth Avenue.
The sound of Taps faded and the piper filled the silence with “Going Home” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
And Jim Cullen, “General Jim,” was on his way home, to a final place of rest in his native County Offaly.