I have fond memories of learning how to make St Brigid’s crosses when I was in primary school. The best part was finding the swampy grounds where the reeds grew. Growing up in Co. Kildare, St Brigid (aka Mary of the Gael) was a household name – our very own saint. Patron saint of the county and patroness of Ireland, she had quite the life.
The story I remember is that her dad was a pagan chieftain in the province of Leinster, her mother a christian. Brigid herself was born in Dundalk, Co. Louth, about 450 AD. She was a great fan of St Patrick, the chap who inspired her to become a nun, and is supposedly buried with him in Downpatrick (minus her head, which is buried in Lisbon). Brigid wanted to join a convent, but her dad was having none of it. He’d already married her off in his head to a rich local and had gone so far as to promise her hand in marriage to a bard. But Brigid pulled a fast one. She prayed to God to make her so ugly so that this chap wouldn’t fancy her. God did as she asked and her father gave in. And when he did, and she took her vows, God gave her back her beauty, and then some.
Brigid wanted land to build a convent. And she wanted to build it in Kildare. No idea why – perhaps because it’s so flat. Her dad, generous chap that he was, said he’d give her as much land as her cloak would cover. So she spread it out on the ground and miracle of miracles, it covered the 5000 acres that today form the Curragh of Kildare.
St Brigid’s well was a fixture on our school trips. There are sacred wells scattered all around Ireland, sites of great healing. Tradition has it that you should dip a clootie (a rag) into the water and then wash your wound. Then you should tie the rag to a tree as an offering. The faithful are healed. Other well, like Fr Moore’s, require you to walk around and across the water while reciting the rosary. I’ve worn my weight into those steps in my time. We’re a funny lot, us Irish.
Other than making crosses in primary school, St Brigid’s day, 1 February, went by unremarked. But apparently this year is different. According to an article in the Irish Times, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is using the day to
showcase women in the Irish diaspora, and build a programme of international events offering an alternative celebration of Irishness to St Patrick’s Day.