Celebrating St Brigid’s Day in Ireland

Saint Brigids Cross

There is a special buzz of excitement in Ireland this year as a new Bank Holiday has been designated to mark St. Brigid Day. Festivals have been newly created throughout Ireland to not only celebrate St.Brigid, but also womens’ contribution to Irish society, arts and culture.

Cross-making is also a traditional way to honour St. Brigid’s Day. The most common modern cross design is the four-legged one, usually made with freshly picked, sturdy, green rushes that grow wild in fields. These woven, waxy-green crosses are not only attractive looking, but easy to create, making them popular not only at family or community gatherings but also in the classroom setting with school kids and their teachers.

When each cross is completed, a second person usually helps to sellotape the legs of the cross firm or tie them with wool or twine. Crosses are often then blessed with holy water and brought home to be hung up over the mantelpiece or somewhere visible in the house for protection. Indeed as a tour guide I’ve noticed that a lot of coach tour bus drivers have St. Brigid’s crosses hanging somewhere near their driver’s seat. Personally, I always have a St. Brigid’s cross inside the back windscreen of the car while on tour. Indeed, one time, when transferring to another tour vehicle, I forgot it. The person I was working for at the time had to arrange for another driver to deliver my St. Brigid’s cross back to me later that evening!

Ancient Beliefs

The traditions and rituals associated with St. Brigid’s Day are very ancient. St Brigid’s Day is celebrated at the same time as the ancient pagan festival of Imbolg, which marked the tentative beginnings of spring. Our ancestors were very dependent on the land and farming, and Brigid was the patron saint of cattle and dairy workers. Like a mystical goddess she was believed to travel all across Ireland on the evening of her feast day, bestowing blessings on the land and her people. Many people left a cloth out overnight called the brat Bríde to gain curative powers as Brigid passed by their home. St. Bridget’s crosses were also hung up in cattle byres to protect livestock from fire, lightning, disease or the fairy folk. Water was collected from holy wells dedicated to Brigid on her feast day.

I think it’s no coincidence that my own home parish church was named after St. Brigid, as was the community centre and local Gaelic football club Naomh Bríd. The southern half of the parish is still prized for its fertile, well-drained grasslands, where dairy farming was the mainstay of a rural cattle based economy going back thousands of years.

To mark the festival, here is an old Irish blessing attributed to St. Brigid

May Brigid bless this house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside, every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portal through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you