Funeral of Rev Thomas Jennings told of a life lived to the full
Daughters tell congregation it is impossible to condense father’s life into just a few words
(Left) The Rev Bob Jennings and (right) a photograph from his years as a British army chaplain.
A small, well-polished brass cross mounted on a plinth stands out against the bright, stained glass windows behind the altar of the small Church of Ireland parish church in Newcastle, Co Wicklow.
Some 66 eight years ago, it was in Korea and likely sitting on the bonnet of a jeep, a makeshift altar for the Rev Thomas Robert (Bob) Jennings to minister the spiritual needs of the men of the Welch Regiment of the British Army, then taking part in the United Nations-mandated war on the peninsula.
The cross was made for Rev Jennings by Korean craftsmen who fashioned it from brass shell casings.
While serving a chaplain to the Welch, Rev Jennings “experienced the harshest and darkest of times which stayed with him for life”, his funeral service heard on Saturday.
In later life, Rev Jennings served for 22 years as rector of Newcastle, which includes the parishes of Newtownmountkennedy and Calary. He died on September 3rd, two days after his 94th birthday and for his funeral on Saturday, over 200 people filled Newcastle church, with several dozen more filling the doorway.
They heard tell of a life lived to the full - 17 years in the army, 70 years as an ordained Anglican minister, a man with a deep commitment to ecumenism, to his family, to his community in Wicklow, to local history and to the natural world.
Predeceased by his wife Jean, the chief mourners were his children Kerry, Rosaleen, Clodagh, Katie and Robert; siblings Stanley and Shelia; and nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
A colour party was provided by members of Post 21 (Bray) of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association; and a bugler, Leo Brychta, sounded Last Post and Reveille as Rev Jennings’ coffin was lowered into the graveyard adjoining Newcastle church.
In a tribute, his daughters told the congregation it was impossible to condense their father’s long life into just a few words.
Bob followed him and, after studying in Trinity College, Dublin, he was ordained in 1948. He served as a curate in Omagh where he joined the British army – the move that brought him to Korea, Hong Kong, Germany, various parts of the UK and to British Guiana (from where he returned with “bunches of wild bananas and a stuffed alligator” which was “instantly banned from the house”, according to his children).
Among the regiments to which he was attached as a chaplain was the Parachute Regiment with which he jumped more than 40 times. In Aldershot, he met Jean, his wife of 47 years.
The demands of family life and five children saw him leave the army and he was appointed Church of Ireland rector of the Killeshandra group of parishes in Co Cavan before, in 1970, being appointed to Newcastle.
There, he was instrumental in helping found St Catherine’s Association which helps provide special needs education and related services in Wicklow, and also in the establishment of St Francis’ parish school in Newcastle.
At the time of the death, he was still working for better housing and hospice care for the elderly.
He was involved in numerous community and self-help associations in north Wicklow.
He was fascinated by local history and archaeology and wrote several books. His keenness for the preservation of local buildings, artefacts and historical features saw him made Heritage Person of the Year in 2016 by Wicklow County Council.
A keen walker and naturalist, the Prayer of St Francis was said at his funeral at his request. His devotion to nature took unusual twists.
“When we finally persuaded him to stop driving,” his daughter Clodagh recalled, “his car was pretty much worthless and rather than let it go to waste, he used it for storing bird seed and logs for the fire.”
Hymns included Be Thou My Vision, Then Sings My Soul, and Be Not Afraid.
Recalling his predecessor and friend, the current rector of Newcastle, Rev William Bennett, said that at heart, “Bob was a community man” who had “died in faith and while we are sad, the deeper response is \[TO] rejoice”.
In 2000, Rev Jennings gave his Korean cross to the church where it remains, mounted in front of the east window.