One of our three national saints, Brigid will now have a new national public holiday centred around her feast day on February 1st. Here Melissa McCarthy and John Scally trace her life and history.
St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland, is said to have been born of princely origin in Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, in the early 450s. Her father, Dubhthach, was a Leinster chieftain and a non-believer; her mother, Brocessa, was a Christian. Brigid holds a central place in the hearts and souls of the Irish people.
As she ‘grew in wisdom and age’ her role began to come into sharp focus as regards the spread of Christianity. Recent research tells us that she seemed to have travelled through different parts of Ireland, especially in the Munster area, using the various modes of transport which would have been the norm in those times. She may have got some inspiration for her travels from Killarney’s commanding, stunning and extensive mountain view!
Variants of the name Brigid are: Bríd, Bridget Breda and Bridie. Early in life, she is reputed to have been very lavish in her love for the poor and less privileged, and to have been skilled in her knowledge of medicine. People regularly invoke her assistance when afflicted with various forms of illness – she is known to have great powers to heal and to alleviate suffering.
A custom associated with the vigil of St. Brigid’s Feast Day relates to what is known as Brigid’s Mantle. On that night, a ribbon or a piece of cloth is placed on the outer sill of one of the dwelling-house windows “in the hope that the saint when travelling through the country would touch the object and endow it with healing properties.” (Ó Riordáin, J. J., [2017, p.46], Brigid of Ireland: The Saint and the Goddess, Ireland, Redemptorist Communication.) It was also believed that this would keep the wearer free from harm, especially when travelling.
It has often been written that Brigid refused many good offers of marriage, and instead ‘decided to take the veil’, despite staunch objections from her father. “With seven other virgins she settled for a time at the foot of Croghan Hill,” County Offaly. (Magnificat, February 2022, Vol. 12, No 4, p.22.).
From Croghan Hill, she “moved to the plains of Magh Life, where under a large oak tree she founded the famous convent of Cill Dara, that is, ‘the church of the Oak,’ (now Kildare).” (Ibid p.25. She also founded an influential school of art” (Ibid p.22). which was a rare service in those times, and which showed great initiative on the part of the saint.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own