Feast of St. Brigid on February 1st and the start of Spring

By Deirdre McGuirk

As we are going through some dark times at the moment, we hope for brighter times ahead. We have come through the winter solstice and the 1st of February marks the beginning of Spring or the ancient festival of Imbolc and St Brigid’s day.

Photo:St. Brigid by Harry Clarke, St Mary's Ballinrobe

St. Brigid by Harry Clarke, St Mary's Ballinrobe

Historical Ballinrobe

This is a very important feast in Ireland as St Brigid is the patron saint of cattle and diary work and it was an important time in the agricultural year.  This was a marker for good weather ahead and farmers would ceremonially turn a sod in the field for the protection of their crops.

St Brigid was born in the 6th century in Fochart near Dundalk, said to be born of a slave mother and the Celtic god Dagda.  When Christianity came to Ireland the pagan goddess or deity Bride was substituted with St Brigid.  She was sold to a Druid and was freed when she converted to Christianity.  When she converted, her generous nature was noticed as she often gave away food and dairy to people in need. After she became a nun, she requested land from the King of Leinster who was not forthcoming, until she asked for as much land as her cloak could cover. Her cloak spread across many acres of the Curragh, the King frightened by her powers, granted her the land where she established a nunnery. 

There are many traditions associated with the festival of St Brigid. When celebrating festivals in Ireland the eve is more important than the day itself.  It was believed that St Brigid visited homes and byres or stables on the eve of her feast to bless the people and their livestock. Straw or rushes were placed on the threshold for the Saint to kneel down, when blessing the home.

On the eve a bairín breac was made and butter was churned. In Mayo it was customary to place a piece of breac on the handle of an upside-down churn dash which was left outside for the Saint. Another custom was a piece of cloth known as Brat Bríde was left outside for the Saint to bless, this would be kept for cures, often for a headache. It was also worn by migrant labourers from Mayo to England or Scotland or by those emigrating to America, it was believed the older the Brat the greater its power.

In Connaught on St Brigid’s eve it was customary to carry an effigy of the Saint, made from straw or a churn dash which was clothed in a dress often white. The effigy was carried by young people from house to house, boys would dress in girls’ clothes called ‘Biddy Boys’ collecting money for the Brídeóg party.

One of the most popular traditions is making a St Brigid’s cross which hung over the door of the house or the byre, which would bring blessing for the year ahead. 

Click here to watch a short video with instructions

 

Danaher, K., 1792. The Year in Ireland - Irish Calendar Customs. Cork: Mercier Press.

Day, B., 2000. Chronicle of Celtic Folk Customs. London: Octopus Publishing .

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019. St. Brigid or Ireland. [Online]
Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Brigit-of-Ireland
[Accessed 22 January 2021].

Kennedy, P., 1992. St Brigid's Cloak. In: G. Jarvie, ed. Irish Folk and Fairy Tales. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, p. 214.

 

 

This page was added by Mary OMalley on 25/01/2021.