The Spirit of St Brigid

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Exterior of St Brigids Cathedral © Tourism Ireland

Across the Celtic world, February 1 marks the Feast of St Brigid, known in Irish as Là Fhéill Bhrìghde (pronounced: Law Fail-ah Brigid).

Born sometime between 451 and 453 A.D., Brigid was a pagan priestess who converted to Christianity. She was Ireland’s first nun and female Bishop, later establishing the country’s first convent and co-ed monasteries. 

Today, she is so revered on the Emerald Isle for her love of nature, her compassion for the sick and poor, her striving for gender equality – and her love for brewing ale – that St Brigid’s Day was named a national holiday in 2023.

Interestingly, the date coincides with the Celtic festival of Imbolc, signalling the halfway point between the winter solstice and the first day of spring and the arrival of longer, warmer days. Imbolc is one of the four major fire festivals in the Celtic calendar.

In ancient Irish mythology the original Brigid was a fire goddess. Each year, pilgrims from all over the world travel to her 5th/6th -century namesake’s shrine in Kildare, Ireland to draw warmth from the perpetual flame alight in her honour.

“Visitors come here seeking spiritual nourishment,” shares Sister Rita Minehan of Solas Bhríde (pronounced: Sull-as Breed), the Christian Spirituality Centre in Kildare that celebrates St Brigid and the early Celtic Christian traditions. “Brigid symbolizes both inclusivity of all peoples and a profound respect for the physical world - a balance of both Christian and Celtic beliefs.”

About 90 minutes southwest of Dublin by car, Solas Bhríde is located on ancestral land that had once been dedicated to the original Celtic goddess.

Centre Co-ordinator Sister Phil O’Shea says that while the flesh-and-blood Brigid may have lived over 15 centuries ago, she is more relevant than ever today.

“It has been very encouraging to see so many people visit us, as they look to create a more caring and compassionate world,” adds O’Shea. “Brigid was all about eco-sustainability and social justice, and there are powerful lessons to be learned from her.”

O’Shea notes that both the goddess and the real-life Brigid represent the sacred qualities of the divine feminine.

St Brigid's Shrine and Well © Tourism Ireland
St Brigids Holy Well © Tourism Ireland
St Brigids Holy Well © Tourism Ireland

“Openness, kindness, sensitivity, compassion, creativity, intuition, loyalty, maternity, and a desire to nurture others and Mother Earth – these are principles that would serve the world well right now, and I believe it is important that we celebrate them.”

Part of those celebrations are currently taking place in and around Kildare in Ireland’s Ancient East through the Brigid 1500 festivities – a one-off, multi-week initiative that features dozens of events, including exhibits, workshops, concerts, and other cultural activities.

“The festival program is rich and diverse,” says Katie Lane, a member of the organizing committee. “We are celebrating St Brigid, the woman, her life, and legacy, by going beyond commemoration to craft an experience that stands the test of time. Balancing faith, sustainability, arts, and more, requires careful planning and consideration. 

“Our goal is to engage communities deeply, creating a connection with the past through meaningful events. The vision is clear, we want to make Brigid 1500 inclusive, where everyone finds something to enjoy and feels a sense of belonging.”

Learn more at www.ireland.com 

Article courtesy of @celticlifeinternational

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Tourism Ireland is the marketing organization responsible for promoting the island of Ireland overseas

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