A Breaffy native had the distinction of being among the first ever Fianna Fail TDs to be elected to Dáil Eireann. And he also had the less welcome distinction of being the shortest-serving deputy ever to represent South Mayo.
Eugene Mullen was born in 1898 to Thomas and Mary, both teachers at Breaffy School. (The main village landmarks at the time were the church, the school, the public house, the stonecutter’s yard and the post office, leading Mullen senior to coin the wry comment that Breaffy was central to ‘salvation, education, damnation, commemoration and communication’.)
Brought up in a staunchly Republican family, young Mullen was imbued from a young age with the principles of national independence, not least from the teachings of the outspoken Castlebar curate, Fr Meehan. A bright academic youth, he was awarded a scholarship to St Jarlath’s from St Gerald’s College in 1911. From there he went to Maynooth but left, following a period of illness, to enter UCD. It was there, through his involvement with Sinn Féin, that he became a personal friend of Arthur Griffith and other 1916 leaders.
He took the MA degree but resigned from a post as Inspector with the Education Board to become Professor at All Hallows in 1922, while three of his brothers were on active service with the IRA. A thoughtful political strategist, he became a founder member of the National Executive of Fianna Fáil, de Valera’s new party, in 1926.
Selected to contest the general election of June, 1927, in South Mayo, he and Michael Kilroy won two of the five seats for Fianna Fáil. His tenure was short lived, however. Three months later another election was called by the Cumann na nGael government in order to stabilise its Dail majority, which had been seriously threatened in a vote of no confidence and was saved only on the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle.
In the September election, Mullen failed to retain his seat, being the first candidate eliminated. The disappointment however was ameliorated in that the seat was won by his near neighbour and colleague, Dick Walsh of Balla, who went on to a successful political career over the next 24 years.
In truth, Eugene Mullen’s defeat caused him little anguish. He was generally regarded as a reluctant politician , preferring the reflective, academic life to the hurly burly of being a public representative. Although a gifted orator, his talents were inclined to the literary. In addition, the call to a clerical vocation, there since his days at Maynooth, was becoming more insistent. In December 1938, he was professed a monk of the Carmelite Order at a ceremony in Loughrea Abbey, and was subsequently ordained to the priesthood at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe.
As a Carmelite, he became a distinguished writer, among his works being the epic poem, Ode to St Patrick. He undertook many preaching missions in Ireland, the UK and the United States.
Eugene Mullen, who died in 1953, was the uncle of Joe Malone, later to become Director General of Bord Fáilte. His brother, Thomas, was a long serving Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin County.
Footnote – The two 1927 elections in South Mayo were remarkable in that Thomas J O’Connell of Knock was elected on both occasions for the Labour Party. A prominent school teacher and INTO activist, O’Connell went on to become Leader of the Labour Party. Had the ‘dead heat’ no confidence motion of 1927 gone the other way, Labour would have taken power and O’Connell would have certainly been named as Minister for Education.