Posted by George Morrison

Brigid 1500                     Word on the Week                      3rd February 2024.

In creating a Public Holiday as a ‘thank you’ to a long-suffering population during the Covid epidemic the Government decided on 1st February.   Traditionally this is the first day of Spring.   It is also celebrated as St Brigid’s Day.   This year is claimed to be the 1,500 anniversary of her death.

In pre-Christian times it was known as the feast of Imbolc.  One of four such days marking the passage of time through the old Celtic year.  One of the main concerns in Springtime is the fertility of the sheep. The old Irish ‘i mbolg’, means ‘in the belly’, and probably refers to the fertility of the ewes in the flock as the lambing time approaches. 

The customs of St Brigid’s Day got a boost with the introduction of the Public Holiday.   Its traditions have included weaving Brigid’s crosses, hung over doors and windows to protect against fire, illness, and evil spirits. People also made a doll of Brigid with straw which was paraded around the community by girls, sometimes accompanied by ‘strawboys’ wearing straw masks and clothing.

St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by the story that she wove this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing that the cross meant that his sins could be forgiven, acknowledged them and asked to be baptised into Christ. 

Brigid was renowned for her negotiating skills.   In her dealings with the High King of Leinster for a place to build her monastery he said, dismissively, she could have the area covered by her cloak.   This she readily agreed to and the deal was done.   To the King’s dismay the cloak grew and grew until it covered an area of 5,000 acres in Co Kildare known today as the Curragh.

It is at Downpatrick that she was finally laid to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, St. Patrick and St. Conleth. Her skull was extracted and brought to the Lisbon area, her Mother’s birthplace, by two Irish noblemen. A portion of her jaw was returned to Ireland and the relic was taken this week to St Brigid’s Parish Church in Kildare.

RTE, our broadcasting company, showed many of St Brigid’s symbols.  An enthusiast requested a fire to be lit outside Kildare Cathedral in memory of Brigid. The dean, Rev. Tim Wright gently reminded her that there was no need as Jesus the light of the world had already come. “Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8 verse 12).