Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland is one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Patrick and Columba. Named after the pagan goddess of fire, St Brigid’s selfless nature nurtured both the land and the living. Freed from slavery by the King of Leinster, she asked him for land in County Kildare to build a convent. Showing the king her small cloak, she requested he give as much land as the cloth would cover. Laughing at her humble favour, he granted her wish and watched in awe as Brigid and her followers stretched it across the land, covering many acres of Kildare’s fertile plains, where the town of Kildare is found today.
St. Brigid was born in AD 450 in Faughart, near Dundalk in Co. Louth. Her father, Dubhthach, was a pagan chieftain of Leinster and her mother, Broicsech, was a Christian. Brigid spent her earlier life cooking, cleaning, washing and feeding the animals on her father’s farm.
She lived during the time of St. Patrick and was inspired by his preaching’s and she became a Christian. When Brigid turned eighteen, she stopped working for her father. Brigid had decided that she would spend her life working for God by looking after poor, sick and elderly people. Legend says that she prayed that her beauty would be taken away from her so no one would seek her hand in marriage; her prayer was granted. Brigid’s charity angered her father because he thought she was being too generous to the poor. Brigid finally got her wish and entered the convent. She received her veil from St. Macaille and made her vows to dedicate her life to God. Legend also says that Brigid regained her beauty after making her vows and that God made her more beautiful than ever. News of Brigid’s good works spread and soon many young girls from all over the country joined her in the convent. Brigid founded many convents all over Ireland; the most famous one was in Co. Kildare. It is said that this convent was built beside an oak tree where the town of Kildare now stands. Around 470 she also founded a double monastery, for nuns and monks, in Kildare. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power, but was a very wise and prudent superior. The Abbey of Kildare became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, and was famous throughout Christian Europe.
St. Brigid also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which St. Conleth presided.
St. Brigid’s cross is one of the traditional rituals in Ireland to celebrate the beginning of early spring. The crosses are made of rushes that are pulled rather than cut. They are hung by the door and in the rafters to protect the house from fire and evil. According to tradition a new cross is made each St Brigid’s Day, and the old one is burned to keep fire from the house.
St. Brigid died in AD 525 at the age of 75 and was buried in a tomb before the High Altar of her Abbey church. After some time, her remains were exhumed and transferred to Downpatrick to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, St. Patrick and St. Columcille. Her skull was extracted and brought to Lisbon, Portugal by two Irish noblemen, and it remains there to this day St. Brigid is the female patron saint of Ireland. She is also known as Muire na nGael or Mary of the Gael which means Our Lady of the Irish. Her feast day is the 1st of February which is the first day of spring in Ireland. (Excerpt from ‘the Celtic Times’)