St Brigid

Traditionally, Irish people regard today, 1 February, the feast of Saint Brigid of Kildare as the first day of Spring. There is a snap of bitter cold weather across the country, with snow in some places and low temperatures that have occasionally dropped below zero at night time in the past week or two.

But weather like this also has its beauties and its benefits. Some nights over the past week, the sky has been clear with few clouds, a beautiful full moon on Thursday lingered for a night or two, and I noticed at the weekend how the first daffodils pushed through in the Rectory gardens in Askeaton.

Over the past four years, I have rediscovered the joys of living in an area where low light pollution opens up a night sky full of stars, and I am reminded of the saying that Irish people start using at this time of the year: ‘There’s a grand stretch in the evening.’

Saint Brigid is a much-neglected saint in the Church of Ireland, although she is one of the three patrons of Ireland, alongside Saint Patrick and Saint Columba, and she gives her name to Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare.

If that neglect of Saint Brigid in the Church of Ireland is a response to some of the ‘new age’ myths and fantasies that have been created around her life and story, then the Post-Communion prayer for today invites us ‘to lay aside all foolishness and to live and walk in the way of insight.’

In recent days, I have been working on a review for the Irish Theological Quarterly of a new book on the history of the parish records of Saint Bride’s Parish in Dublin. Last year, two of us marked Saint Brigid’s Day by seeking out and walking to Saint Brigid’s Well in a remote dale reached by muddy paths and trails across hilly fields near Kilcornan and Stonehall, east of Askeaton.

The last of the great wandering bards, Antoine Ó Raifteirí (1779-1835), or Raftery the Poet, wrote about the coming of Spring with the coming of Saint Brigid’s Day in words that most Irish schoolchildren can recite:

Anois teacht an earraigh
beidh an lá ag dul chun síneadh,
Is tar éis na féil Bríde
ardóidh mé mo sheol.

Ó chuir mé i mo cheann é
ní chónóidh mé choíche
Go seasfaidh mé síos
i lár Chontae Mhaigh Eo.

I gClár Chlainne Mhuiris
A bheas mé an chéad oíche,
Is i mballa taobh thíos de
A thosóidh mé ag ól.

Go Coillte Mách rachaidh
Go ndéanfadh cuairt mhíosa ann
I bhfogas dhá mhíle
Do Bhéal an Átha Mhóir.

Now at the coming of Spring
the day will be lengthening,
and after Saint Brigid’s Day
I shall raise my sail.

Since I put it into my head
I shall never stay put
until I shall stand down
in the centre of County Mayo.

In Claremorris
I will be the first night,
and in Balla just below it
I will begin to drink.

To Kiltimagh I shall go
until I shall make a month’s visit there
as close as two miles
to Ballinamore.

The Readings: Hosea 6: 1-4; Psalm 134; I John 1: 1-4; John 10: 7-16

The Collect:

by the leadership of your blessed servant Brigid
you strengthened the Church in this land:
As we give you thanks for her life of devoted service,
inspire us with new life and light,
and give us perseverance to serve you all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table and invited us to eat
the bread and drink the wine of the kingdom.
Help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that in fellowship with all your saints
we may come to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saint Brigid’s Well, off the road between Kilcornan and Stonehall, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford Blog 1 February 2021