Irish Holidays: Saint Bridget & Saint Patrick
In 1889 James Mooney Published a paper The Holiday Customs of Ireland. He found that a number of Irish holidays blended the Catholicism with ancient Celtic tradition and mythology. Some of the traditions he documented are still practiced in some regions of Ireland today. For example February 1st, St. Bridget’s Day, is a fire festival that is linked to the pagan Candelmas celebration. But it is also associated with the Celtic deity Brigid or Breej, who may have originally been the protector of cattle and dairy. Torches and fires that were lit for Brigid were eventually carried to honor the Virgin Mary, or St Bridget, who is said to have been an early disciple of St. Patrick. According to Mooney, the convent of nuns she is said to have founded in 484 CE:
“like that of the vestal virgins of ancient Rome, was celebrated for its perpetual fire, which was fed and guarded by the nuns., and which, with the exception of of a short intermission in the thirteenth century, burned constantly for more than a thousand years...”
“…In the last century, according to Vallancey, it was customary on this occasion for every farmer’s wife to bake a cake calld the baieg’ean breac, or spotted cake. The house was then set in order and the neighbors invited, the caked sent round with ale and pipes and the evening was spent in mirth and good humor. In the east and south-east young girls dress up the churn-dash to represent Saint Bridget, and carry it in procession from one house to another, expecting to receive a treat at each.”
Of course St. Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, and while In the United States, it is often associated mostly with parades and over drinking, but in 1800’s Ireland it was more closely associated with farming:
“It is a saying among the people that after Saint Patrick’s Day it is time to begin to make garden. In Connemara they say that once should have half his farm work done by this time and half his fodder still on hands, and that after this every alternate day will be clear and sunshiny. The weather on this day is proverbially fine, and of course there is and Irish reason for it. IN the first days of Christianity in Ireland Saint Bridget was much hindered in her work by the rains, which are especially frequent in the country, until at last she obtained as a favor from God that every other Sunday should be a clear day, so that she might preach to the crowds that came to hear her. Not to be out done, Saint Patrick askt that his anniversary might be a day of sunshine, which was granted.”
(-I can only assume it’s due our sins that it is no longer always true… 😉
With the exception of Connemara and some northern districts, every child would wear a small disk of intersecting crosses known as a croiseog (crishoeg) or “favor” on their left breast. In Connemara it was only worn by women. The disks were made of stiff paper, or silk lined with pasteboard. Around the edge of the disk between the arms of the cross were sometimes dots, shamrocks and other figures in various colors. “In clare and Connemare there is usually but one cross, which is draw upon the surface of the disk with the blood of the wearer, the blood being obtained by pricking the end of the finger.“
Of course there was a certain amount of drinking involved…
“At the merrymaking in the evening, no good Irishman neglects to “drown the shamrock” in “Patrick’s Pot” -in other words, to dip the shamrock in a glass of whisky. After wishing the company health, wealth and every prosperity including ‘long leases and low rents’ he dips the sprig of shamrock into the liquor which he is about to drink and the touches it against another, which her wears in he hatband in honor of the day.”
For fun, I’ll probably fish some other holiday traditions from this work as we get to the other holidays this year.
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