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Saint Brigid’s Day – A New Bank Holiday

Who is Saint Brigid?

Saint Brigid’s Day, “Lá Fhéile Bríde”, celebrates Ireland’s patroness, Saint Brigid.

Let’s start by introducing the saint to whom this holy day is dedicated: Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland is a 5th century saint and patroness of Ireland along with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. Brigid was also an abbess who founded an abbey in Co Kildare, which became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland. Nowadays, Saint Brigid’s Cathedral is in Kildare town and open to the public in the summer months, although nothing is left of the old monastic site.

History of the Saint

There is a lot of debate about Saint Brigid, since few historical facts about her life can be found in the hagiographies (a hagiography is a text focusing on the lives and miracles of saints). Thus, some historians claim that Brigid’s father named her after one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion, the goddess of fire, while others believe Brigid is just a Christianization of the Celtic goddess. Overall, although little is known about her identity, Saint Brigid is generally considered both the founder of Kildare’s monastery and a legendary figure deriving from Irish folk traditions.

Therefore, Saint Brigid is celebrated on the 1st of February, which is also the date of Imbolc, a pre-Christian seasonal festival celebrating fertility and the starting of spring. In Irish, “i mbolg”, means “in the belly” and it refers to the birthing season, when lambs are growing in the sheep’s bellies. Put it in another way, spring may be seen as a transition period from winter to summer when the landscape re-awakens. In this sense, it may be said that spring “carries in its womb” and “gives birth” to summer.

Traditions on St. Brigid’s Day

In the past, on this day, families used to eat a supper of potatoes, butter cream and apple cakes. Furthermore, they used to make their Saint Brigid’s crosses woven from straw and hung over the doors or around the house.

In 2023, Saint Brigid’s Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday of the month. In general, it may be said that Saint Brigid’s day is a popular tradition to celebrate the patroness of Ireland and the beginning of springtime.

What to Do for the February Bank Holiday

If  you are looking for some activities to do on Saint Brigid’s day, we would suggest visiting the National Museum of Ireland (open from 1pm to 5 pm on Monday, admission is free) displaying an exhibition of objects and archive photography. Secondly, an Imbolc Fair will be held on Sunday February 5 from 12pm to 4pm at Meeting House Square Dublin City to celebrate Women’s work. There will be body paint workshops, a wise women’s weaving circle, Imbolc Tarot reading and lessons on the art of blacksmithing.

Links:

Encyclopaedia Britannica (2022) St. Brigid of Ireland [Online]. Available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/patron-saint (Accessed Feb.1, 2023).

Lee, M. (2023) ‘St Brigid’s Day: Things to do across the country today (and over the long weekend)’, Irish Examiner[Online]. Available at https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/people/arid-41060216.html (Accessed Feb.1, 2023).

National Museum of Ireland (2022) St Brigid’s Day was an important Irish festival in folk tradition, celebrating fertility, blessings and protection [Online]. Available at https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/News/St-Brigids-Day (Accessed Feb.1, 2023).

Sullivan, M. (2023) ‘The enduring traditions of St. Brigid’s Day’, IrishCentral [Online]. Available at https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/st-brigids-day-traditions (Accessed Feb.1, 2023).

 

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