This year marks the first national holiday for Ireland named after a woman. This change recognises not just the equality of women but also a saint who is so relevant to the climate issues we have today. It has been over 1500 years since Brigid walked these lands yet she inspires us to ‘remember how to beautifully walk on the earth again’, philosopher John Moriarty. The new holiday will be on the first Monday of February except when St Brigid’s Day is on a Friday. This year it will be held on Monday 6thFebruary.
The 1st of February is known as St. Brigid’s Day and it commemorates the death of one of the 3 patron saints of Ireland. She lived to around 75 years of age and is buried next to St Patrick in Downpatrick. Brigid lived at the same time as St Patrick and it was likely that the two of them collaborated together in building the early Irish church. Like Patrick she was also a slave but was known for her tremendous generously to people in need. She had a great love of the poor and gave many of her possessions away to them.
Brigid like many women of her time was a brewer of ale. Beer was regarded as a good alternative to water in the 5th century as it probably contained less germs. If fact one of the miracles she is credited with is turning dirty water into beer. This is commemorated in a 10th century poem, ‘I’d like to give a lake of beer to God’.
To this day St Brigid’s Day is commemorated with the making and displaying of a cross made from rushes and know as a St Brigid’s cross. It is said that Brigid converted a dying chieftain to Christianity by skilfully weaving the rushes together into a cross. Traditionally people hung these over their doors thinking that they would protect their thatched roof from fire.
Brigid founded her largest religious house in Kildare and it was the first female religious house in Ireland. She was given the land by the King of Leinster. He firstly refused but then according to legend, she asked him to give her enough land for her cloak to cover. He laughed and agreed, however when her cloak was spread on the ground it covered 12 acres. The king became a patron of St Brigid’s Monastery and later converted to Christianity.
If St Brigid lived today she would probably be an environmentalist arguing for green spaces and more nature friendly policies in Ireland, planting bee signs along the motorway. She would also be a great advocate for the rights of children and be a champion for a host of charitable works. Hardly surprising then that she is the patron saint of 32 professions from learning, healing, diary production to poetry.
By honouring her in this way the Republic of Ireland prepare the way for St Brigid’s 1500thanniversary in 2024. It may never overtake the celebration of St Patrick, but it will be a welcome holiday for many. Happy St Brigid’s Day.