Its February 1st – the start of Spring. Here in Ireland we have another reason for celebration. This is the feast day of one of our patron saints (St. Brigid shares the honour with St. Patrick and St. Colmcille).
Throughout the country, towns, schools, churches, crosses, holy wells and of course females, are named after Brigid. It would be very hard to find someone with no connection to the saint (e.g. -my mother’s name is Brigid and I taught in St. Brigid’s Primary School).
(Aer Lingus Airbus 2320 -200 – St Brigid)
So here’s a few things you should know about this amazing woman!
She was born in Faughart, Co. Louth around 453…
Her father was pagan and her mother his christian slave.
Her father wished her to marry well but she was determined to live a religious life. She prayed to be made unattractive so that she would have no suitors. Her prayers were answered and she lost her beauty. She was eventually allowed to follow her chosen path. Once she took her final vows, her beauty was restored!
She wanted to build a church and approached the King of Leinster for a site. He promised her all the land that could be covered by the cloak she was wearing. She laid her cloak on the ground and it spread to cover acres of land!
She started a community of women and a monastery. Her monastery was acclaimed as a centre of pilgrimage, learning and hospitality until the suppression of the monasteries in the 16th century.
Once she was at the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain and telling him about Christianity. As she spoke, she picked some wild rushes and wove a cross. He asked what she was doing and she explained about Christ on the Cross. He converted to Christianity before dying.
It is claimed that she could turn water into beer!
Her name is derived from the Irish word Brígh – meaning power, strength or ‘exalted one’. She is known as St. Brigid of Kildare but there are several forms of her name – Brigid, Bríd, Bridget, Breid, Brigit, Brighid, Bridie….
(St. Brigid’s Cross, Tully, Co. Dublin)
There were many traditions associated with the feast day. My mother – being ‘Brigid’ -was sent to collect rushes. She had to stand outside the door until she was called inside:
“Gabh ar bhur nglunaibh, fosgail bhur suile, agus leig isteach Bríd”
(Get on your knees, open your eyes and let in Brigid).
The rushes were used to make crosses which were hung over doors and windows as a sign of protection and left there until the following year.
( I once asked my mum what happened if there was no Brigid in the house. She thought about it and admitted that she’d no idea – she reckoned, that in the part of Donegal where she grew up, there was a Brigid in every house so the matter never arose!!!)
In parts of the country, a bed of rushes was made beside the fire. If the rushes were disturbed the following morning, it was believed Brigid had spent part of the night there.
Elsewhere, a doll (Brídóg) was made of rushes to represent the saint and carried around from house to house. Brigid was welcomed into the house in the form of the doll and it was hoped she would bless the family with good health and good harvest.
Whilst St. Brigid’s Day no longer has the religious significance of the past, some traditions have endured – particularly that of making the cross.
Primarily, the feast day marks the end of winter and the onset of Spring.
Lá Fhéile Bríde Shona Daoibh go leir
(Happy St. Brigid’s Day!)