She was some woman for one woman. She’d have to be to have been born in two places. Depending on who and what you read, you can find two places claiming to be the lone woman among Ireland’s three national saints – St Brigid. Faughart, near Dundalk, Co. Louth is one such place, lauded by Encyclopaedia Britannica as St Brigid’s birthplace. The county of Offaly also lays claim saying she was born at Croghan Hill (the most isolated hill in Ireland). Others say she never existed and is a figment of Ireland’s collective imagination.
But no matter what you read, one thing that comes across is that she was some woman.
The first day of February is St Brigid’s Day (the Christian version) and the traditional festival of Imbolc – which begins on the evening of 1 February and ends on the evening of 2 February marking the beginning of spring.
From next year, 1 February will be a national holiday in Ireland, a country where St Patrick has had first billing for maybe a tad too long. Dublin is celebrating Brigit 2022 with a host of free events in the city. Around the world, in a recent move, Irish embassies are marking the contributions of Irish women to society. And they’re worth marking.
I found a lovely article on her published in the Kildare Observer in June 1888. It was a reprint of one that had initially appeared in the Women’s Suffrage Journal.
Out of the mists of miracle there looms before us, thirteen centuries ago in Ireland, the figure of a mighty woman – Brigid (or Bridgett) of Kildare. A woman who, without any doubt, impressed her personality upon her time and country, but whose character and actions can only be outlined by the uncertain light of the traditions of miracle and legend which both conceal and reveal her life.
Imagine having people talk about you centuries after you’re dead and say that you ‘impressed your personality’ on your time and country.
In whatever way the stories strike us that a globe of fire hovered over the place where Brigid was born; or that the frighted mother came home from the fields on day to find her cottage all ablaze, and to the baby lay laughing with rosy cheeks unscathed amidst the flames; or that a pillar of light shone over the head of the maiden when she took her vows; – believe we these things or believe we them not, they mark one unmistakeable truth – they point to a life of no common order.
In all the years I made St Brigid’s crosses in schools, in all the stories I’ve heard about her, these are new to me.
Through the halo of these and the many other legends which surround her, Brigid appears a type of all that is best in the character of Irishwomen. We see her first as a bright, assiduous child, sharing all she has with the poor; then as an earnest girl, striving to fulfil her filial duties under difficult and complex conditions; finally, as the self-sacrificing, devout woman, who felt that throughout all her life in all things she has the help of an angel of God while she spent her life for others, teaching and healing their quarrels as well as their diseases.
As I’ve said, she was some woman, for one woman. Going back to our suffragette in the 1880s, she had this to say:
Strong in affection, ready in pity, clear in judgment, bright in spirit,-long may Brigid be the type of the daughters of Erin
I’m grateful to know many such daughters of Erin and many more who live St Brigid’s spirit.