John Corbett with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside

February, named after the God, Februus, joined January to become the second month to be added to the old 10-month Roman calendar. In pre-Christian times it was a time of cleansing and purification.

The Celts celebrated the festival of Imbolc. Sacrificing a cockerel to the sun was one of the ancient rites, which was intended to placate the gods. It was done in places where evil spirits were thought to be active, such as crossroads or the confluence of rivers.

As in May, those that wanted to retain their good looks used to bathe their faces in the morning dew on February 1st.

With the advent of Christianity, pagan gods and goddesses were replaced by the saints. Februus was largely forgotten and attention was turned instead to St. Brigid, the 6th. century cowherd from Kildare, who is credited with numerous miracles and with the founding of the town, whose name derives from the church that she built there.

She was regarded as the essence of generosity and a provider of food for the hungry. Water from the wells dedicated to her was sprinkled on crops and on animals and the custom was still in vogue in our district in the 20th century. In parts of the country, people used to refrain from work on her feast day, February 1st.

Other saints linked to the month are St, Blaise on the third, St. Valentine on the 14th. and St. Finian on the 17th. The latter was a bishop in the 7th. century who resisted the attempts of Rome to dominate the early Celtic Christian Church.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own