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St. Brigid - The Giveaway
by Bridget Haggerty

Known variously throughout Ireland as St. Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Bridget or Bride, it was believed that she travelled around the countryside on the eve of her festival, blessing both the people and their livestock.
To show that her visit was welcome, families would place a cake or pieces of bread and butter on the windowsill. In some parts of Ireland, the bread would be an oatmeal loaf in the shape of a cross which was specially baked for the occasion. A sheaf of corn was often placed beside it as refreshment for the saint’s favorite white cow which accompanied her. In some places, the offering was left to be taken by a hungry, homeless person.

This feast day(February 1st) heralded the first day of Spring(Imbolc). Similar to the United States groundhog tradition, if a hedgehog came out of his burrow on St. Brigid’s Day, it was a sign that mild weather was coming. If he went back into his burrow, it was a sign that bad weather would continue.

No matter how poor the household, the mother would always try to prepare a festive supper or at least some tasty dish. Boxty pancakes, apple cake, dumplings and colcannon were favorites, and in some parts of Ireland a fruit bread called barm brack was served. (See recipe: Barmbrack)

Butter always formed a part of the meal and fresh butter was sure to be churned that morning. To honor the saint's renowned generosity and ensure prosperity in the coming year, the wealthier farmers gave gifts of butter and buttermilk to less fortunate neighbors; some killed a sheep and sent portions to friends and to the needy. Special crosses made from reeds and rushes were made and put up over the doorways and the ones from last year were taken down and put up elsewhere in the house. Since any kind of effort that required the turning of a wheel was also to be avoided on this day, it's probable that even in modern Ireland, children won't be permitted to ride their bicycles! You're also likely to see handkerchiefs hanging from washing lines all over the country. Nowadays, it's done to ensure the health of the household for the coming year, but it evolved from the old custom of putting up a strip of cloth or ribbon called Brigid's Mantle. It was said that if the saint touched it, it would have curative powers.

But, oh to be in Ireland on St. Brigid's Eve in the old days. That's when groups of young people dressed up in costume and went from house to house carrying a straw doll called the Brideog. These groups were known as The Biddies or Biddie Boys and, in return for entertaining those they called on with songs and dancing, they'd be rewarded with candy, cookies and possibly enough cash to finance a caeli or party.

But back to the saint and her remarkable position in Irish affection - second only to St. Patrick. In researching her life, I was taken with her generosity which so closely resembled that of my mother's. I told the story in a previous article A Powerful Woman, how Helena Bridget O'Flaherty gave everything away. For my mother, with all respect and love, I share with you this poem. I wish I'd written it:

The Giveaway
from The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley

Saint Brigid was
A problem child.
Although a lass
Demure and mild,
And one who strove
To please her dad,
Saint Brigid drove
The family mad.
For here's the fault in Brigid lay:
She WOULD give everything away.

To any soul
Whose luck was out
She'd give her bowl
Of stirabout;
She'd give her shawl,
Divide her purse
With one or all.
And what was worse,
When she ran out of things to give
She'd borrow from a relative.

Her father's gold,
Her grandsire's dinner,
She'd hand to cold
and hungry sinner;
Give wine, give meat,
No matter whose;
Take from her feet
The very shoes,
And when her shoes had gone to others,
Fetch forth her sister's and her mother's.

She could not quit.
She had to share;
Gave bit by bit
The silverware,
The barnyard geese,
The parlor rug,
Her little
niece's christening mug,
Even her bed to those in want,
And then the mattress of her aunt.

An easy touch
For poor and lowly,
She gave so much
And grew so holy
That when she died
Of years and fame,
The countryside
Put on her name,
And still the Isles of Erin fidget
With generous girls named Bride or Brigid.

Well, one must love her.
Nonetheless,
In thinking of her
Givingness,
There's no denial
She must have been
A sort of trial
Unto her kin.
The moral, too, seems rather quaint.
WHO had the patience of a saint,
From evidence presented here?
Saint Brigid? Or her near and dear?

I found this poem on a web site where it was also reported of Francis of Assisi that as a young man he had a dream in which God said to him, "Francis, repair my church." He took this to refer to a church building near Assisi which was in need of repair, and he sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to obtain building materials. His father was furious. Francis had not asked for permission: he simply took it for granted that his father would wish to contribute to such a worthy cause. It is said of Brigid that as a young girl she made similar assumptions about her own family. Whether this is true or not, we may never know. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints "Historical facts about her are extremely rare; some scholars have even doubted her existence altogether."

What we do know of her is mainly through anecdotes and miracle stories, some of which are deeply rooted in Irish folklore. She is said to have been born out of wedlock to a maidservant seduced by a prince, sold into slavery by his jealous wife, and then raised by Druids near Kildare where she later founded a monastery on an ancient pagan site. It was there that a fire, tended by twenty nuns, burned continuously for hundreds of years after her death.

So, who was she really? A figure based on a Celtic goddess which was later adapted by the Roman Catholic Church when Christianity came to Ireland? Or was she the daughter of a pagan prince? While many Roman Catholics are often troubled by the inconsistencies of our spiritual heritage, she is so deeply rooted in our Irish customs and culture that the majority of us find ourselves accepting her existence simply on faith.

So, every year, on the eve of her feast day, I will continue to fashion a cross of straw in her honor, call on her for inspiration when the inevitable writer's block occurs, and, most of all, try to live the legacy she left us - especially that of giving to those in need.

Notes: A reader generously provided a link to a site with comprehensive information on the existence of St. Brigid: St. Brigid of Ireland

The children of 4th Class Holy Family Senior School in Ennis, Co. Clare
have been busy making St. Brigid's Crosses. If you'd like to make a St. Brigid's Cross, they have kindly given us their permission to reprint the instructions
Image: From the Sola Bhride Community, Co. Kildare, Ireland.

 

Sun, Nov 23, 2014


O’Sullivan’s Cascade, Killarney

According to legend the waterfall once ran with whiskey. The Chieftain of the Fianna, Fionn MacCumhal, resided above the Cascade on Tomies Mountain. It was here that he kept his personal supply of the finest uisgebeatha. O'Sullivan of Tomies was lucky enough to share this delightful drop, being the only man bold enough to stand up to Fionn. Sadly, when the Sassenagh invaded Ireland, O'Sullivan's Cascade changed into water.
Photo credit: Synergise


Click for More Culture Corner.





Saints Preserved!

Patriarts is the name of a company that sells Ceramic Tiles, Spirit Stones, Pendants, One-of-a-Kind Jewelry, Greeting Cards, Bookmarks, and more, featuring a beloved Celtic saint.

We show St. Brigid, and in her honour, Patriarts will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of all St. Brigid pieces to Heifer International to be used toward the purchase of a dairy cow for a family in a developing nation. For complete details, please click Patriarts.


Told with the gripping delivery of a well-seasoned storyteller, this tale of a fifth-century Irish saint has the broad appeal of folklore while retaining the power to inspire religious awe. Publisher's Weekly.
Click here for Brigid's Cloak


St. Brigid's Blessing
Through her holy intercession
with our Father in Heaven,
may St. Brigid bless
you and and make you
generous in your giving,
pleasant in your greeting,
honest in your speaking,
loyal in your loving,
clear in your thinking,
strong in your working,
and joyful in your living
And when it's time
for your homecoming,
may there be peace in
your passing and a warm
welcome in heaven.



Brigid of Ireland

by Cindy Thomson

It seems an almost impossible task for writers not born and reared in Ireland to realistically convey the Irish idiom of the English language, but Cindy Thomson has been more successful than most. Her account of the early life of St Brigid is told with an obviously deep knowledge of the social history of fifth century Ireland and the rivalry between the old religion, represented by the druids, and the followers of St Patrick. Irish Emigrant
Click here for Brigid of Ireland.
To learn more about the author please click Cindy Thomson.


 

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