Sure and you don’t have to be Irish or Catholic to know that the Patron Saint of Ireland is St. Patrick. But Erin has more than one protector. Near and dear to the hearts of all Hibernia is St. Brigid, also known as the Patroness of the Emerald Isle and an equally esteemed influence in Gaelic folklore and tradition. Her feast day is celebrated on February 1st.
Brigid was born in 453 in Faughart, County Louth. She was the daughter of a pagan Irish Chieftain, Dubhthach of Leinster and Brocca, a Christian slave in his court. She died at the age of seventy, in 523.
Brigid “Lived to Give”
Unbridled generosity marked Brigid’s life. As a child she even kept a cache of food and clothes on hand to share with anyone in need. Her bigheartedness would sometimes get her into trouble though: Brigid once gave her father’s valuable sword to a leper who was begging for alms. When an angry Dubhthach began to scold his daughter for taking liberty with his possessions he was silenced by the King of Leinster himself, who had witnessed the philanthropy. “Leave her alone for her merit before God is greater than ours” the King admonished.
Gender Parity Conferred on Brigid
Once she came of age Brigid’s father tried to force her into an arranged marriage. The young woman had no intention of marrying though; she intended to become a nun.
Whether by accident or Divine Intervention, Brigid took her religious vows from the ordination of a bishop form. When a witness protested that the Holy Orders could not be administered to a woman, Bishop Mel (who by the way was a nephew of and ordained by St. Patrick) responded “No power have I in this matter. That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigid, beyond every (other) woman.”
Brigid went on to establish convents, monasteries and even an art school. The town of Cil-Dara (Kildare) was twice-blest when the saint founded both a double monastery and an art school there.
According to “Ask about Ireland”, an Irish online libraries initiative, The Book of Kildare – thought by some scholars to rival the famous Book of Kells – was a collaborative effort between heaven and earth! An angel revealed the intricate patterns decorating the book’s pages, Brigid prayed for Heavenly Help and the writer copied!
Like any self-respecting Irishman or woman Brigid believed in the benefits of a wee drink now and again. In fact, a favorite quote attributed to the beloved saint includes the line “I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.”
Sure and that’s a lovely thought to remember her by! So February 1st raise a glass and give a toast to Ireland’s ‘other saint’, Saint Brigid! (And leave some bread and butter on the windowsill, in case she passes by.)