Before there was the mighty feminist prototype Abbess of Kildare, aka St. Brigid, there was a goddess of the same name. She had nineteen priestesses who maintained an eternal flame. On Day 20,the Goddess Herself kept watch. The abbess kept up that tradition until Henry VIIIth broke up the monasteries. The embers of the extinguished went out and the ruins of the Fire Temple can be seen behind the Protestant Cathedral in Kildare Town.
But Brigid never left Ireland. In 1993, at the close of the AFRI conference, a Brigidine nun, Sister Rita Meehan, re-ignited the sacred flame and the Sisters have maintained it ever since. The return of the sacred flame has coincided with a great opening and new flourishing of Irish society since. I do not speak of the Celtic Tiger that ran out of fuel in 2008. It has been the liberalising of Irish society that has seen a leap from the 19th to the 21st centuries in mere decades. The country has passed two referendums where the majority population voted for the legalising of gay marriage and abortion. Former President Mary McAleese campaigned for the passage of gay marriage as the mother of a gay child. Such high profile testimony would have been unthinkable back in the 1990s.
This weekend Ireland is celebrating its first St. Brigid’s bank holiday weekend. The theme is Celebrating Women’s Creativity.. The Irish government is running an ad, which I saw on YouTube, celebrating the many names of Brigid (Brīd, Breda, Bridey, among many variations), as well as the many activities that are her concern and matronages. We see the faces of woman poets, healers, goldsmith’s, musicians, activists and athletes. Each concludes with the statement” I am Brigid.”
Most importantly we see the faces of black immigrant and Irish born black women. Ireland is no longer a monoculture. Since the eternal flame was re-ignited Ireland is no longer a nation exporting her nationals. She is giving refuge just as St Brigid was famous for her open hand and table. I routinely meet and speak with Ukrainian refugees at the bus stop these days. This is not to say that our politicians cannot be tight-fisted, but it helps that there is a paradigm and principle of hospitality embodied in one of Ireland’s great saints. It gives you a stick to poke them with. Which is exactly what Brigid would have done. She was a neat, acute operator with politicians in her own time.
Brigid is the coming of springtime and the symbol of renewal. Even though we woke up to frost, the snowdrops and primroses are appearing in our garden. The rushes from which I wove the traditional crosses this week are plump and a deep green.
Brigid is the poet’s mentor. I rarely fail to write at least one poem for this season we call Imbolc, the Irish name for the month of February. This is mine for 2023. Blessings of this season of lengthening light and renewal!
Imbolc Paperwhites The blankness of fog banked sky Tight buds of snowdrops Light filtering through fog A new day rolling in On a tideline of dreams Light creaks against the clock Each morning more minutes We do not know what shall be But we do. Of course we do! Paperwhite Snowdrop Possibility The old year and all its poor choices Is behind us The foggy dawn beckons with its chorus of new voicezs What new song? What new story To make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry But always always always Leave them with some small joys Paperwhite Snowdrop Copyright Bee Smith 2023