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On the path of a Celtic goddess: the Irish city celebrating St Brigid | Eire holidays

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“She actually believed that if she brewed a lake of beer, it could remedy the issues of the world …”

When publican and brewer Judith Boyle, whose household has been in pubs and beer for 5 generations, utters these phrases in her namesake bar within the commuter city of Kildare (a 30-minute prepare experience from Dublin), you’d be forgiven for pondering that she was speaking about an ale-making relative. However in actual fact she’s referring to St Brigid, a girl who – I used to be studying – is the patron saint of (amongst many issues) beer.

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“They are saying she made soiled water into beer and managed to share a single pot of ale together with her total parish of 18 church buildings,” says Judith, as I sup on her new batch of Brigid Ale – a malty braggot made candy with the honey from her beekeeper dad’s hives. “Yearly in January we make Brigid’s crosses, and on the primary of February youngsters within the city get the time off college.”

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This yr it’s not simply Kildare schoolchildren who get a time off. In 2023 the Irish authorities determined so as to add a brand new public vacation to the nationwide calendar and, after a lot campaigning, Brigid’s feast day was chosen.

Judith Boyle serves Brigid Ale. {Photograph}: Phoebe Smith

The legend of Brigid begins in AD451, however right here in Kildare it begins on the Heritage Centre with a digital actuality journey – cease one in every of 5 on the St Brigid’s Path. I head there the subsequent morning and pull on a VR headset to satisfy Brigid, the pagan goddess of fireside, and am quickly being flown by 1,500 years of historical past on the wing of a peregrine falcon.

“Brigid is a really historical identify,” says my actual life information and centre supervisor Tom McCutcheon. “It hyperlinks again to the Celtic mom goddess, Danu. Previous to Christianity, individuals worshipped deities and goddesses, and right here Brigid was one in every of them.”

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It’s late January, and regardless of the cooler climate and darkish nights, there’s an actual buzz in Kildare. That’s as a result of this 1 February marks 1,500 years since St Brigid’s demise – which will likely be honoured with two weeks’ value of celebrations within the city, from fireplace and lightweight exhibits to guided meditative walks, craft workshops, music live shows and storytelling for teenagers.

The properly on Brigid’s Path. {Photograph}: Phoebe Smith

After assembly the goddess, I’m launched (through VR expertise) to Brigid the farmer – daughter of a slave and a free man of excellent standing – who’s busy milking cows and making a gift of her father’s sword to a homeless household in order that they will promote it to purchase meals. Then she morphs, seamlessly, into the saint whose identify adorns the close by cathedral and church a couple of minutes’ stroll away.

“The Irish identify for Kildare is Cill Dara – church of the oak,” says Tom. “The cathedral stands the place St Brigid constructed her first monastery.”

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I wander over to the cathedral grounds – at present solely opened for mass on Sundays and particular occasions – the place an enormous stone constructing rises above each different construction within the city. In keeping with custom, Brigid got here right here in AD480 and made her monastery co-ed – instructing each women and men.

Among the many Christian iconography, there additionally sits an previous, weathered Celtic cross, and an oblong stone enclosure stated to mark the spot the place the Celtic goddess lit her flame, which nuns tended for hundreds of years.

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Ribbons and presents dangle from the ‘clootie tree’. {Photograph}: Stephen Barnes/Faith/Alamy

The flame not burns right here – it’s thought to have been extinguished within the sixteenth century through the Reformation – however on the southern fringe of city, on the religious centre referred to as Solas Bhride, the final two Brigidine sisters guard a reignited model. Regardless of the overt Christian hyperlink with the nuns, the dichotomy continues right here. Their schedule options each ecclesiastical and secular occasions – from meditation periods to historic lectures. And the nuns inform me they observe each the liturgical and pure calendar.

“We mark the rhythm of the yr,” says Sister Phil O’Shea as we sit in entrance of the flickering gentle. “Each the equinoxes and the solstices, in addition to Creation, Easter and Christian feasts.”

I participate in a cross-weaving workshop with Phil, the place I be taught that although a cross is alleged to symbolize the crucifix, its 4 arms are additionally believed to symbolise the seasons and the weather. “Some individuals see Brigid solely as a goddess. Some see Brigid the saint as an embodiment of the goddess. Every era will reinvent the legend in their very own manner,” says Phil.

The centre gives three self-contained, circular-shaped hermitages for individuals (of all and no faiths) to remain in – with no TV or wifi – for quiet reflection. I like the thought of shutting myself away hermit-like right here, nevertheless it seems I’m not alone, as all of them are booked. So I head again to Kildare to my extra salubrious hermit cell within the type of Rooms at Firecastle (doubles from €130 B&B). Mine has a king-size mattress, rainforest bathe and a big image window that overlooks the cathedral.

The subsequent day I go to the ultimate two websites on Brigid’s Path, together with her holy properly, the place woven Brigid crosses and rosary beads dangle from church-like lancet arcs, alongside a pagan “clootie tree” coated in ribbons, honouring the goddess. I additionally name in to her namesake parish church, the place worshippers chant a prayer in Irish whereas a gospel choir rehearses for the Brigid celebration on 1 February (additionally the date of Imbolc within the pre-Christian calendar, marking the beginning of spring).

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A part of the Herstory Gentle Present on St Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare. {Photograph}: PA Photographs/Alamy

Between the websites I chat to locals in Hartes gastropub (which serves sustainable, traceable and seasonal meat and produce) and be taught in regards to the legend of how Kildare got here to be. Apparently, the king of Leinster – a miserly fellow – when requested by Brigid if she might web site her monastery on the hilltop, stated she might solely declare the land she might match underneath her cloak. She agreed, and threw out her mantle to cowl your entire city and surrounding rolling grassland, referred to as The Curragh or, regionally, Brigid’s Pastures.

On my closing morning I go to the two,000 hectares she managed to accumulate. There are not any strolling trails, although Sister Phil stated they’re engaged on creating one which connects “all corners of Brigid’s cloak”. I wander regardless, making my very own manner throughout the undulating floor. After half an hour I discover myself inside a rectangle of deciduous timber, an previous fox’s covert, and are available nose to nose with an oak peace pole positioned right here by the Mates of St Brigid, Cairde Bhride.

After an extended weekend in Kildare, I’m extra fascinated than ever by Brigid. A goddess, saint and girl who stood for serving to others, empowering girls, caring for the setting and – very importantly – making sufficient beer for everybody.

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The journey was supplied by Fáilte Eire. Kildare is a 45-minute drive or 30-minute prepare experience from Dublin, which may be reached by prepare and Irish Ferries from Holyhead and Pembroke, from £43.20 every manner

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