Saint Brigid, or Bridget of Kildare, was a Patron Saint of Ireland – and a contemporary of a certain St. Patrick. Her existence is recorded in the Irish annals, which is how the books written by Irish monks are known.
It is widely speculated that St. Brigid was not only a contemporary, but in fact, probably knew St. Patrick, though let’s face it, they probably did not suspect they would both become saints in times to come. And, like “Paddy’s Day”, as we affectionately like to call it in Ireland, our Brigid also has a day named after her.
So, in many parts of Ireland, February 1st is known as “St. Brigid’s Day”. It may seem a tad early for many other corners of the world, which at this point are still knee-deep in snow, but in Ireland, even if we find ourselves knee-deep in rain, St. Brigid’s Day marks the beginning of Spring. Unfathomable, if you’ve grown up in another part of the world and it’s still bitter cold. But then, when were the Irish ever known to do things the way others do things? In fact, one of the most endearing (and also, sometimes, deeply frustrating!) traits about the Irish is their ability to rebel against the rules. But I digress.
One of the most well-known symbols which is traditionally associated with St. Brigid is, of course, St. Brigid’s cross. It is made by weaving rushes together (or straw if you don’t any rushes handy). This is often done after the Feast of St. Brigid in which families gather together to share a supper of potatoes and freshly churned butter (it’s Ireland, right?) Often, Colcannon was also made by adding chopped cabbage to creamy mashed potatoes. Also served were apple cakes or oat bread, followed with tea.
However, a lesser-known custom associated with the Patron Saint is the “Bratóg Bhríde”, also known as St. Brigid’s cloak.
The story goes that Brigid decided to build a convent in Kildare, and she traveled far and wide to find the perfect site. She finally found a place she loved. However, there was one little snag; the land belonged to the King of Leinster.
Undeterred, Brigid patiently waited for the King of Leinster and his band of horsemen to return from a hunt. She told the King that she needed land and told him of her purpose, and the King asked her how much she needed. Brigid replied that all she needed was the amount her cloak would cover.
Amused by this strange request, the King agreed, and Brigid laid her cloak on the ground. The cloak grew and spread until it covered the rich, green acres we know today as The Curragh of Kildare, or St. Brigid’s Pastures.
To this day, the tradition of the “Bratóg Bhríde” still lives on in many parts of Ireland. On St. Brigid’s Eve (31st January), one of the traditions is to smooth down the ashes in the fire before you go to bed, select your finest scarf or shawl, and leave it outside your house.
Some say, leave it on a windowsill or near your front door. The folklore goes that St. Brigid will pass by your house in the night and bless the ‘cloak’ as she passes. The garment is then stored away carefully (and indeed, it may first have to be dried if you find it soaked by the night’s rainfall, as I did this year). Just don’t put it in too safe a hiding place – you might need to pull it out time and time again for its healing powers. It’s known to cure a sore head or a sore throat.
And when you check your fireplace the next day, if there is any mark whatsoever on the ashes, or a dent within, you can be sure St. Brigid has visited you, and has brought blessings to your house.
Niamh Cooper is the Publisher and Company Director of eThentique Limited.
Her new book, “Lights on the Horizon” is a charity project supporting COVID workers.
Niamh [Neeve] Cooper lives in west Cork in the south of Ireland, with her two teenage daughters and two unruly Bichon-un-frisés. She grew up bi-lingually (English, German) in Cologne in Germany to an American Dad and an Irish Mum. When Niamh is not working in educational publishing, she can be found reading, writing, baking or dancing her way to the seashore. The latest string to Niamh’s bow is writing stories that get under her skin, and her most recent publication, a charity book called ‘Lights on the Horizon’, was created by over 20 writers, photographers and publishing professionals during lockdown in 2020. The book was published by Niamh’s publishing company, eThentique. All proceeds go to first responders. You can read about it on www.ethentique.com. You can support frontline workers by purchasing the book on www.craftersofireland.com
Niamh’s stories, flash fiction, short memoirs and poetry have been published and highly commended on thejournal.ie, writing.ie, The Evening Echo, Fish Publishing and others, and her work has been performed at Listowel Writers’ Week, and broadcast on NYC radio show ‘Ireland Calls’, with Treasa Goodwin-Smyth. Niamh blogs at 5MinuteMusings.com.