A new holiday in Ireland celebrates St. Brigid of Kildare, one of Ireland’s oldest figures.
St. Brigid of Kildare, according to story, was a younger contemporary of the better-known St. Patrick, now the Catholic patron saint of Ireland, healing, blacksmithing, and dairy farming. To others, she’s older, an ancient goddess of the same name and attributes.
For both, this year Ireland is making St. Brigid’s Day a public holiday, sharing it with Imboc, an ancient holy day to herald the approach of spring. Officially, the new holiday is Monday, February 6th this year, but celebrations began this week.
“The legacy of St. Brigid and its relevance for our world today is not about going back to the fifth century and staying there, but looking at the needs of the world today,” said Sister Rita Minehan, a Roman Catholic sister and one of the founders of Solas Bhride, a center that opened here in 2015 to welcome pilgrims and foster the spirituality inspired by Brigid.
“Does Brigid have something to say to us today?” said Minehan. “We believe she does.”
“I think Ireland is ready to celebrate our women and our goddess and our saint,” said Melanie Lynch, founder and CEO of Herstory, which has advocated for the holiday for years. The organization uses arts and education programs to celebrate powerful woman in history and legends. “You’re talking about a great role model for young girls.”
Herstory has been sponsoring celebrations around Ireland in recent days — complete with fire dances and light shows — and a traveling exhibit highlighting women peacemakers in Northern Ireland
The center of celebrations for the new holiday is at Kildare, which was a pre-Christian pilgrimage site, a medieval cathedral, a ruin, and then an Anglican church. Celebrants also attend St. Brigid’s well, a covered well in a cemetery near Liscannor rumored to have healing powers. It is Ireland’s first public holiday honoring a woman.