The Christian Feast of St. Brigid, Lá Fhéile Bríde, is traditionally celebrated on February 1st. Many churches and holy wells in the Ferns Diocese are associated with this saint. In Pre-Christian times this was the season of Imbolc, a festival which celebrated the beginning of spring. It is thought by some that Imbolc, meant ‘in the belly’, a time when sheep began to lactate and their udders filled and the grass began to grow again.
There are many stories and legends associated with St. Brigid, many of which focus on her love of the poor and of the natural world. One legend tells of how she converted a Chieftain, on his death-bed, to Christianity by weaving a cross with rushes or reeds while telling him the Christian story. Many people today still like to weave a cross on the eve of the Feast and hang it indoors. They do this as a ritual to keep them in touch with the natural world and to mark the beginning of the new life of spring. The crosses were once believed to give protection against lightening and were often also hung in cow byres.
It was believed that St. Brigid travelled about the countryside on the eve of the feast. People would leave out a piece of cloth for her to bless and this cloth would be used during the following year as a cure for minor ailments, particularly for headaches. She was also famous for her ale-making. According to legend, one measure of St. Brigid’s malt would make up 17 lakes of ale!
St. Brigid is reputed to be a Patron Saint of the creative arts, especially of poetry. The Co. Kildare poet, Anne Egan, has written a series of St. Brigid poems. In one of her poems, St. Brigid’s Proposal to the Poet, the Saint wishes to marry a young poet who is fond of her. However, she feels she has to refuse his proposal, feels herself already too strongly drawn to the power of God in the natural world.
The poet, Brendan Kennelly, has a poem entitled St. Brigid’s Ale Soliloquy – ‘White cups of love I’d give them with a heart and a half, /Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer to every man, / I’d make Heaven a cheerful spot,/ Because the happy heart is true.’
Today, many Christians in environmental and ecological movements look to St. Brigid, as well as to St. Francis of Assisi, as inspiration for their work on behalf of the planet.
Máire Ní Bhriain
Remnant of a lost goddess,
of cattle and the dairy – patroness,
she spreads her brat to bring a cure
as she passes from door to door.
Companion to animals and birds,
miracle worker for the poor,
lady of renewal with healing powers,
guardian of early buds and flowers.
On the shore the giolla-bríde sings
praises to Brigid, this first of spring.
Máire Ní Bhriain
Foclóir: brat – cloak; giolla-bríde – oystercatcher, the servant of Brigid.