How we all rejoiced when the news of a new St Brigid’s Day bank holiday was announced, we were so busy picturing the long lie-ins that we nearly forgot to ask who exactly was St Brigid?
Of course, when something as magical as a lazy day has been awarded to us surely it’s only right we learn more about the saint who helped to bestow it on us in the first place.
To start did you know that she’s one of only three female patron saints of Ireland? And with more and more people becoming aware of who she is it’s only right we provide a little bit of background info.
Without any further delay, here’s a brief history of the saint and some customs people practice to honour her on your day off.
Who was St Brigid?
Though there is debate over if the saint was even real, for the sake of this article we’ll say she was. Saint Brigid was just one of many names this Kildare woman went by, from Bríg and Biddy all the way up to Brigantia, she has many titles.
Though there are many stories about her, the one most Irish primary school children are taught is the one about her cloak that grew in all directions granting her the land to build a convent.
But before we go into all that we need to cover the basics. It is believed that she was born in 450AD in Faughart near to Dundalk, the daughter of a pagan chieftain and a Christian mother.
Some people believe that her mother was actually from Portugal and she was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought over here to work as a slave.
It’s said that her father named her after one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion – the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry.
She was alive at the same time that St Patrick was and inspired by his preachings, she became a Christian, telling her father she would not take a husband and instead would dedicate her life to helping people.
Though there is also the belief that the saint is actually born of the Celtic pagan religion and is in fact the goddess of poetic arts, crafts, prophecy and divination.
When Christianity came to Ireland, it is understandable that people didn’t completely remove her from their beliefs, with her feast day being February first, the same day as the pagan festival of Imbolc.
Imbolc, literally translating to ‘in the belly of the mother,’ was a celebration of the start of spring and the lambing season, as Mother Earth began to wake up again.
Her most famous miracles
Like every saint, Brigid performed miracles, it’s just what saints do. From giving away all of her family’s food to hungry beggars and dogs and magically replacing it, to turning a wooden beam into a living tree with a touch, she did things beyond belief.
As mentioned before, her most famous miracle was when she grew her cloak to get the land required for a new convent but there is more to the story.
Brigid approached the King of Leinster looking for land for her convent. As the story goes she believed the Curragh in Kildare was the perfect place as there were woods to one side for firewood and berries and to the other there was a lake for water and plenty of room for producing crops.
The King rejected her request for land and is said to have laughed at her request. Turning to God, she prayed He would change the king’s mind but then she had an idea.
She asked the ruler if she could have as much land as the cloak she wore would cover. Thinking he was clever, the King agreed, I mean how much ground could one woman’s cloak cover after all?
Well, when you have God on your side it turns out a lot. Four of her sisters grabbed the corners and ran in different directions as the cloak grew and covered many acres.
Releasing what he had just witnessed, the King changed his mind promising Brigid a decent amount of land and later became a patron of her monastery.
What can people do to honour her?
There are many beliefs and practices that people do on St Brigid’s day to honour her, some are well-known like the making of a St Brigid’s cross and others are not so much.
You may remember that come February your teacher brought in a bag of reeds for your class to make your own crosses with but like all things, there is an origin story behind the custom.
It is said that when visiting a dying man’s bedside she invented the cross as she sat tending to him after picking rushes up off the floor and weaving them together.
It is said the sick man asked her what she was going and from there she told him the story of Jesus and before he died he became a Christian.
Another practice that people adapted included leaving out strips of cloth of Brigid to bless as she passes through, believing that they will offer protection and healing.
There are many ways to honour her, including some that have been lost over the years like parades, which are having a revival in county Kerry, and the crafting of a doll out of straw and shells that would be brought around the community by young women.
Whatever way you decide to mark the new bank holiday just enjoy it!