After making the arrangements for the synod at the end of May, Cullen returned to Drogheda, where for the next two months he was busy with pastoral duties and diocesan matters. He preferred to live in Drogheda for several reasons. First, he could commute easily to Dublin by rail. Second, he found Drogheda religiously more congenial than Armagh. There was a splendid convent of Presentation Sisters (with about a thousand pupils) and the people were also ‘very Catholic and good.’ The first letter Cullen wrote to Monsignor Alessandro Barnabò, Secretary of Propaganda (later Cardinal Prefect), dated 16 May 1850, immediately after his return to Drogheda from Armagh, shows how he dealt with the Roman authorities. He gives a convenient summary of the situation as he found it and expresses his wish for a positive outcome to the Synod.
Drogheda, May 16 1850
I wrote a few lines to acknowledge the receipt of several briefs and letters that your Excellency has sent me through Monsignor Fornari. I have already spoken with the Archbishop of Dublin and several other prelates, and all are perfectly satisfied with the way in which matters have been arranged for the future synod.
After my arrival here in Ireland I have been continually ill because of the extreme cold of the season. I have however made a long tour through this diocese, which took me to Armagh to take possession of the cathedral which is nothing other than a hovel hardly twenty feet high. The last archbishop began a new building and has spent about £15,000 towards completing the edifice. Still the wretchedness among the Catholics is very great, and the population is reduced by a third from what it was six years ago.
Famine, disease, and emigration have produced this very extraordinary reduction. The Catholics have suffered much more than the Protestants because the latter are very well off, while the greater part of the former are very wretched.
The diocese of Armagh is very long, but extremely narrow, whence it is necessary to travel about ninety miles to pass from one end to the other. The city of Armagh is handsome, and there is an ancient cathedral built in Catholic times, but now belonging to the Protestants. The Anglican archbishop has a magnificent palace and a country house that compares to the Villa Borghese with £25,000 annual income. The Catholic archbishop, it may be said, is without a cathedral, without a home, and without an income. Truly in this whole province the Church is very badly provided for, and everything still remains to be done. Let us hope that God will help us make some beginning to the good work that is [only] awaiting a fruitful result from the synod, which will be probably celebrated on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, but it will require much time and patience to put things in order here.