St Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland (c. 451-525) is one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Colm Cille. Her feast day is 1 February or Imbolc, the traditional first day of spring in Ireland. She is believed to have been an Irish Christian nun, abbess, and founder of several convents.
Imbolc is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. At Imbolc, Brigid’s crosses were made and a doll-like figure of Brigid, called a Brídeóg, would be paraded from house-to-house. Brigid was said to visit one’s home at Imbolc. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, while items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brigid was also invoked to protect homes and livestock. Special feasts were had, holy wells were visited and it was also a time for divination.
In Irish mythology Brigid was the Celtic goddess of fire, poetry, unity, childbirth and healing. She was the daughter of Dagda a High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Sacred wells were always places of pilgrimage to the Celts. They would dip a clootie (piece of rag) in the well, wash their wound and then tie the clootie to a tree. Generally a Whitethorn or Ash tree, as an offering to the spirit of the well. It seems only natural that these traditions would be carried forward into modern times in the form of St Brigid. Today’s pilgrimages to holy wells usually take place on the Saints feast day or Pattern or Patron days.
Although now a small well maintained park, the site still has an aura of ancientness, a very spiritual place. The well is fed by a spring that then flows underground before appearing again under a stone archway. The stones below the archway are known as St Brigid’s slippers. The stream then flows past a modern bronze statue of Saint Brigid. The rag tree near the well displays many clooties. Usually the rags are placed there by people who believe that if a piece of clothing from someone who is ill, or has a problem of any kind, is hung from the tree, the problem or illness will disappear as the rag rots away. The votive offerings are left in gratitude to the Saint for curing a loved one.
According to tradition Saint Brigid was born in Faughart, Co Louth, where there is a shrine and another holy well dedicated to her. The Saint found a convent in Kildare in 470 that has now grown into a cathedral city. There are the remains of a small oratory known as Saint Brigid’s fire temple, where a small eternal flame was kept alight for centuries in remembrance of her. She is one of Ireland’s patron Saints and known as Mother of the Gael. She is said to be buried along with St Colm Cille and St Patrick in Downpatrick. Throughout Ireland there are many wells dedicated to St Brigid. A visit is strongly recommended, a very peaceful and sacred place long before Christianity came to Ireland.
Photo: St Bridgid’s Well | The statue of St Brigid by sculptor Annette McCormack | Co Kildare