By the 650’s there was a widespread memory in Ireland of Brigid (died c. 525). She was an Abbess who according to tradition had a reputation for holiness. St. Brigid established a large religious foundation in Kildare, one of Ireland’s oldest monasteries. This draws attention to the role of women in the early Christian in Ireland.
In St. Mary’s Church, in Ballinrobe, County Mayo one of Harry Clarkes’s final works prior to his death was the large three-light window located at the organ gallery, representing three of the patron saints of Ireland; St Brigid is represented in one of the panels; the others being St. Patrick and St. Colmcille.
Description of St. Brigid’s representation
This very large panel shows St. Brigid as a nun in an elaborately trimmed and tasselled veil elegantly falling in pleats over her shoulders; she wears a coif headpiece, which includes a decorated cap and a turquoise wimple or guimpe with a long tassel to the front.
We get a tiny glimpse of Clarke’s awareness of Ireland’s heritage with the elaborate silken pointed-toe, embellished elegant tapering, green pointed slippers, which may be inspired by the Shrine of St. Brigid at the National Museum of Ireland.
She holds a white trimmed cross in her left hand and a miniature representation of the monastery she founded in her right.
In Ireland’s ancient past, the 1st of February was the day on which the festival of Imbolc was held. According to folklore the year was split into four quarters or ‘Quarter Days which represented the four seasons; summer (May Day/Bealtaine), autumn (Lammas/Lúnasa), winter (Halloween/Samhain); these sections were equidistant from a solstice or an equinox. Imbolc celebrated the birth of lambs with the coming of spring and meant ‘within the womb’. It also appeared in early literature as Oímelc meaning ‘lactation’ bringing a sense fertility, birth, and renewal. Centuries later it had been altered and adopted to celebrate Lá Fhéile Bridgide, the feast of St Brigid.
Customs associated with St. Brigid
Customs associated with St. Brigid vary throughout the country is the making of St. Brigid crosses by many in the community, especially the children of the local national schools. Rushes are picked and woven by hand into the traditional four-armed cross associated with Brigid. These crosses are possibly Pre-Christian in origin with some three armed and elaborate lozenge types associated with other parts of County Mayo.
This first day of Spring February 1st, St. Brigid’s Day, celebrates the coming of spring which brings the gifts of renewal and growth for all.
In nature soil awaits tilling resulting in propagation, lambs have yet to be born, the daffodils will bloom shortly, leaves will soon dress our trees and winter, hopefully, will be left behind resulting in hope for a successful and healthy year ahead for all.