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


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Birth of Charles Edward Jennings, Soldier & Revolutionary

General Charles Edward Saul Jennings, Irish soldier and revolutionary who serves France in the eighteenth century and is sometimes romanticised as Brave Kilmaine, is born on October 19, 1751 in Sauls Court, Dublin.

Jennings is the second son of Theobald Jennings, a physician of Polaniran (Ironpool), Tuam, County Galway, and Eleonore Saul, daughter of Laurence Saul, a wealthy Dublin distiller. Educated privately in Dublin, he leaves Ireland in 1769, settling in Tonnay-Charente in the south of France, where his father had set up practice. His father had, several years previously, assumed the fictitious title of ‘baron of Kilmaine’ in the hope of improving his position in French society, and he subsequently assumes the same title.

In 1774 Jennings joins the Royal Dragoons as a trooper, transferring in 1778 into the Légion de Lauzun, a corps made up mostly of foreign volunteers. After the campaign in Senegal (1778–79) he returns to France and is commissioned as a sous-lieutenant. He then campaigns with Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, during the American Revolutionary War and teaches cavalry tactics at Metz on his return. Promoted to captain in 1788, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, he is stationed at Verdun and, despite a short period in prison, continues to serve with his regiment. In 1791, when several of the regiment’s officers flee from France, he remains and is one of the first officers to swear allegiance to the national assembly.

Promoted to Chef d’escadron in April 1792, Jennings serves under Charles François Dumouriez during the invasion of the Netherlands, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Valmy and the Battle of Jemappes, where he reinforces the French centre at a critical point, ensuring victory. A series of rapid promotions follow. He is made a colonel in January 1793, a general of brigade in March 1794, and a general of division in May1794.

After a series of reverses in the summer of 1793, in which the French lose the fortress-towns of Condé and Valenciennes, the committee of public safety appoints Jennings to command the Armée du Nord on May 15, 1793, with the rank of full general. In August, in order to preserve his force in the face of overwhelming opposition, he retreats from a position 120 miles north of Paris known as ‘Caesar’s camp.’ Although the allied army swings away to invest Dunkirk, he is arrested and imprisoned for endangering the city, and remains in prison until after the fall of Robespierre in July 1794. Within a few days, due to the turbulent political situation, he is rearrested and not released until December 1794. In May 1795 he cooperates with Napoléon Bonaparte in suppressing the Jacobin uprising in Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris and, having reestablished his credentials, commands the cavalry during the invasion of Italy (1796). Bonaparte regards him highly, and he distinguishes himself at the Battle of Lodi on May 10, 1796, seizing the city of Milan five days later. He defeats a large Austrian force in the Battle of Borghetto before investing and taking the fortress-town of Mantua in February 1797.

When peace terms are agreed with Austria, Jennings returns to France, taking command of the centre column of the Armée d’Angleterre, which had been raised to invade Britain and Ireland. However, his deteriorating health makes some observers question his suitability for such an appointment. An associate of Thomas Paine and James Napper Tandy, and a friend of Wolfe Tone, he is forced to watch the gradual reduction of his army as Napoleon diverts troops for his campaign in Egypt. Tone is at first suspicious of him, given that many Irish-born French officers had deserted the revolutionary cause, but comes to admire him.

After the defeat of Admiral Bombard’s expedition to Ireland and Tone’s arrest on November 3, 1798, Jennings requests that the French government should take a senior British prisoner as hostage and subject him to the same treatment as Tone. After Tone’s death he assists Matilda Tone and her children. In early 1799 he is appointed military governor of Switzerland but is forced to resign due to his failing health.

In a fragile condition Jennings leaves Switzerland and returns to Passy in Paris, where his domestic griefs and chagrins add to the poignancy of his bodily sufferings, for his constitution is now completely broken up. He dies of dysentery on December 11, 1799, at the age of 48. He is buried with full military honours.

Jennings is historically honored at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where his name can be seen on the inside triumphal arch, on the Northern pillar, Column 05. Underneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (World War I). There is a personal portrait of Jennings in the ‘Hotel de Ville’ (City Hall) at Tonnay-Charente, where his father Dr. Theobald Jennings practiced as a physician.

A monument was erected in Jennings’s memory in Tonnay-Charente in the 19th century. Rue du Général Kilmaine, a street in Tonnay-Charente, is named in his honour in the 19th century.


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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)