Friday, 1 February 2013

The Traditions of St Brigid's Day

Photo credit: Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Today, the 1st February, is St Brigid's Day in Ireland, a day that has traditionally been recognized by the Irish as the first day of spring.   

Now I’m not going to go too much into the story of St Brigid, suffice to say there are many who know much more than I do about St Brigid than I do. 
I do know that St Brigid was born around AD450 & her father named her after a powerful pagan figure, the Goddess of Fire.  She lived around the same time as St Patrick himself & it was St Patrick who inspired her to convert from Paganism to Christianity.  She is second only to St. Patrick in the esteem in which the Irish hold her.

Perhaps the most famous story describes how she sat by the bedside of a dying Celtic chieftain, consoling him with her testimony about the power of the Christian faith to overcome death. As she spoke she plaited an impromptu cross out of local river rushes, a practice many Irish schoolchildren still learn today, resulting in the simple, four-armed cross that graces many Irish doorways to this day.

Why I remember St Brigid today is not because it is the first day of the Irish spring  [here in New Zealand we’re still experiencing the heat of summer] but because I’m reminded of my very first day in Ireland. 

Leaving Dublin in our rental car, we headed straight for the historic monastic site of Glendalough, in the heart of Co. Wicklow.   I’ve told the story of Mary from Meath before, but just for those who haven’t heard it, I'll tell it again.   
Wicklow Mountains, Co. Wicklow on the way to Glendalough

The Historic Monastic Site of Glendalough
As we drove over the beautiful Wicklow Mountains we happened upon Mary from Co. Meath, who waved us down from her car which appeared to be firmly wedged up to its axle on the side of the road.   Moving bags to one corner to make room, Mary happily jumped into our car & off we went in search of handsome farmer with big tractor to get her out of her predicament.    Actually, Mary didn't especially need a 'handsome' farmer as she had a man friend of her own which we had left guarding the car stuck in the ditch.  She happily told us that she'd met him on an internet dating site and this was her first outing with him!    We soon track down handsome farmer a few kilometres on, who appeared very willing, to give Mary a hand.  Our meeting with Mary was sadly too brief, but we were pleased we had been able to be of some assistance to her. 

So what is the point of the story I hear you ask?  Well, just before Mary departed, she gave us a St Brigid’s Cross which she was in the process of plaiting when we picked her up.  We learn from Mary that the Cross is traditionally hung over the doorways of homes around Ireland to protect & Bless those that live within.   

Since meeting Mary, I’ve read a lot more about the plaited St Brigids Crosses, woven from rushes. I’ve even attempted to make my own.  So if you are feeling inspired to make one yourself, here’s a couple of links to help you. 

The first is a video of young Caitlin, showing us how it’s done:

Making a St Brigid's Cross

And for those of you who need pictures, here’s step by step instructions [with pictures] from the blog  The Fox and the Mountain