seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Saint Columbanus

saint-columbanusColumbanus, Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, dies on November 21, 615. He is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.

Columbanus is born in 543 in the Kingdom of Meath, now part of Leinster. Well-born, handsome and educated, he is torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decides to withdraw from the world. His family opposes the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He leaves home and studies Scripture extensively under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. He then moves to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Saint Comgall is serving as the abbot. He stays at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he receives Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.

In middle age, Columbanus feels a call to missionary life. With twelve companions (Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Deicolus, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno) he travels to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, has fallen far from the faith, but are ready for missionaries, and they have some success. They are warmly greeted at the court of King Gontram of Burgundy, and the king invites the band to stay. They choose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columbanus as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group draws disciples to join them and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columbanus, to find solitude for prayer, often lives for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks over-crowds the old fortress, King Gontram gives them the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray, in 590. Soon after, a third house called Ad-fontanas is founded at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil. Columbanus serves as master of them all, and writes a Rule for them. It incorporates many Celtic practices, is approved by the Council of Mâcon in 627, but is superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arise early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops object to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602 he is summoned to appear before them for judgment. Instead of appearing, he sends a letter advising them to hold more synods and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he uses to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continues for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. It is only settled when Columbanus abandons the Celtic calender when he moves to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columbanus speaks out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which is in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunhilda of Austrasia stirs up the bishops and nobilty against the abbot. Theuderic II orders him to conform to the local ways and shut up. Columbanus refuses and is briefly imprisoned at Besançon, but he escapes and returns to Luxeuil. Theuderic II and Brunhilda send an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship sets sail, a storm drives them back to shore. The captain takes it as a sign and sets the monks free.

They make their way to King Chlothar II at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in 611. Columbanus travels to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, where he sails up the Rhine to the lands of the Suebi and Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelization work there is unsuccessful and the group passes on to Arbon, then Bregenz on Lake Constance. Saint Gall, who knows the local language best, takes the lead in this region. Many are converted to the faith and the group founds a new monastery as their home and base. However, a year later political upheaval causes Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treats him well, and he preaches and writes against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, King Agilulf, the king of the Lombards, gives him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilds a half-ruined church of Saint Peter, and around it he founds an abbey that is to be the source for evangelization throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columbanus always enjoys being in the forests and caves, and as he walks through the woods, birds and squirrels ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life comes word that his old enemies are dead and his brothers want him to come back north, but he declines. Knowing that his time is almost done, he retires to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River. Columbanus dies of natural causes at Bobbio, Italy on November 21, 615.

Columbanus’ influence continues for centuries as those he converted hand on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelize untold numbers more, and his brother monks found over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

(Pictured: Saint Columbanus stained glass window, Bobbio Abbey crypt)

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The Irish Free State Takes Drogheda

millmount-droghedaA large Irish Free State force takes Drogheda, County Louth, on July 4, 1922, during the Irish Civil War. They defeat Anti-Treaty fighters who are based at Millmount Fort, a large fortified complex situated on a great mound on the south bank of the River Boyne.

Millmount has been fortified in historical times since the early 12th century when invading Normans built a mote and bailey on what was probably originally a neolithic passage grave similar to Newgrange. In Irish cosmology, it is often assumed to be the burial place of Amergin Glúingel, whose name indicates that in ancient Irish mythology he was regarded as the originator of the arts of song, poetry and music.

Hugh de Lacy, one of the Normans who comes to Ireland after Strongbow, builds the original fort circa 1172, having been granted the Kingdom of Meath by Henry II of England. Later a stone castle is built on the site. This castle forms part of the defences of the town during the Siege of Drogheda during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649. The fort’s English defenders attempt to surrender to Parliamentarian troops under Oliver Cromwell but are massacred when they give themselves up on September 11, 1649. The complex is later called Richmond Barracks. Some of the present buildings, in the courtyard, are built circa 1714. After the unrest and rebellions of the 1790s and the Acts of Union 1800 the complex is re-fortified and the Martello tower is built.

The fort suffers considerable damage during the Irish Civil War. It is occupied by Anti-Treaty forces and on July 4, 1922, it becomes the target of shelling by the army of the Irish Free State. The Free State Forces under Michael Collins have been given extensive support by the British Army at the express wish of Winston Churchill who insists that the Republican Forces be crushed. Using the same British Army 18-pounder artillery piece which had shelled the Republican H.Q. in the Four Courts in Dublin some days earlier the Free State Forces bombard Millmount fort for several hours before the Republican garrison retreats. The famous Martello tower is all but destroyed during the shelling.

Today, after being restored in 2000, the complex houses the Millmount Museum which houses a wide variety of artifacts of local and national importance. The complex is Drogheda’s most dominant feature, clearly visible from all parts of the town. The Martello tower is affectionately known as “The Cup and Saucer” by locals. The whole fort is a national monument and has been designated as Drogheda’s Cultural Quarter.


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The Norman Invasion of Ireland

Cambro-Norman mercenaries land in Ireland on May 1, 1169 at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurragh), the ousted King of Leinster, who has sought their help in regaining his kingdom. The Norman invasion of Ireland takes place in stages during the late 12th century, at a time when Gaelic Ireland is made up of several kingdoms, with a High King claiming lordship over all.

Diarmait and the Normans seize Leinster within weeks and launch raids into neighbouring kingdoms. This military intervention has the backing of King Henry II of England and is authorized by Pope Adrian IV.

And there and then the high king stood strong and lay down too led by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, more commonly known as Strongbow. By May 1171, Strongbow has assumed control of Leinster and seized the Norse-Irish city kingdoms of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford. That summer, High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Connor) leads an Irish counteroffensive against the Normans, but they manage to hold most of their conquered territory. In October 1171, King Henry lands a large Anglo-Norman army in Ireland to establish control over both the Cambro-Normans and the Irish. The Norman lords hand their conquered territory to Henry. He lets Strongbow hold Leinster in fief and declares the cities to be crown land. Many Irish kings also submit to him, likely in the hope that he will curb Norman expansion. Henry, however, grants the unconquered Kingdom of Meath to Hugh de Lacy. After Henry’s departure in 1172, Norman expansion and Irish counteroffensives continue.

The 1175 Treaty of Windsor acknowledges Henry as overlord of the conquered territory and Ruaidrí as overlord of the rest of Ireland, with Ruaidrí also swearing fealty to Henry. However, the Treaty soon falls apart. The Anglo-Norman lords continue to invade Irish kingdoms and they in turn launch counter-attacks. In 1177, Henry adopts a new policy. He declares his son John to be “Lord of Ireland” (i.e. of the whole country) and authorizes the Norman lords to conquer more land. The territory they hold becomes the Lordship of Ireland and forms part of the Angevin Empire. The largely successful nature of the invasion has been attributed to a number of factors. These include the Normans’ military superiority and programme of castle-building, the lack of a unified opposition from the Irish, and the Church’s support for Henry’s intervention.

The Norman invasion is a watershed in the history of Ireland, marking the beginning of more than 700 years of direct English and, later, British involvement in Ireland.


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Henry II Lands at Waterford

henry-ii-at-waterfordHenry II, fearful that Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, also known as Strongbow, will grow too powerful in Ireland, lands with an army at Waterford on October 17, 1171. The Normans, Norse, and Irish all submit to him, except for the most remote Irish kings.

Henry is worried about the growing power of the Cambro-Norman knights, in particular Strongbow, who has in the previous two years carved out what is a substantial new territory, as well as a delicately located new territory with regard to Henry’s own holdings in what is termed the Angevin Empire.

Henry’s presence changes the game for the Norman lords. Either they agree to do as he asks, submit to his sovereignty and accept the land they have grasp through force of arms as his gift, or branded as rebels they face their King with an army of 1,000 knights.

The Lords see the way of things and agree to the demand. Many of the Gaelic Irish, seeing Henry as a potential ally against the power of the Norman Lords, swear allegiance as well.

Henry receives recognition and hostages from the Ostmen of Wexford, who have captured Robert FitzStephen, as well as from many other kings in Ireland including Diarmait MacCarthaigh, king of Cork, Domnall Mór Ua Briain, king of Limerick, Murchadh O Cearbhaill, king of Airgialla, Tighearnán Mór Ua Ruairc, king of Breifne, and Donn Sléibe mac Con Ulad Mac Duinn Sléibe, king of Ulaid.

Henry formally grants Leinster to Strongbow in return for homage, fealty, and the service of 100 knights, reserving to himself the city and kingdom of Dublin and all seaports and fortresses. He also grants the kingdom of Meath, from the River Shannon to the sea, to his own follower Hugh de Lacy.

Henry II’s arrival at Waterford puts to rest the idea of an independent Irish kingdom that any Norman lord might imagine and determines a course for Ireland for some 750 years.