1 February, is the Feast of St. Brigid (Bríd), patron saint of many, including babies, travelers, scholars, and fugitives.
And so I love her.
There is quite a bit of scholarly debate about who she actually was; some claim that she was a real person (which I believe to be true), while others say that her name and legacy are actually derived from the (B.C.E.) Irish goddess of the same name, who is honoured on the very same day, which happens to be Imbolc, one of four sacred ancient Irish days marking and celebrating the passage of the seasons. Imbolc, amongst other things, marks roughly the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
And I believe that’s true as well. Many saints, Irish and otherwise, were Christianized gods and goddess from previous eras.
My maternal grandmother always kept a St. Brigid’s rush cross over the doorway inside her kitchen. She told me that it blessed the home and protected everyone who came to visit.
One day, (this day), I was hitching around Co. Clare. I didn’t have much money. I did have a tent and a sleeping bag in my pack, but that was about all.
A man and woman stopped to pick me up. I was soaking wet.
The man was from Manchester, the woman from Clare. They were heading home to Doolin, and asked me where I was staying.
“Don’t know. I’ll find somewhere to camp.”
They exchanged concerned glances. The weather was fierce. The man offered to let me camp in his backyard for a small sum. I made the appropriately polite decline, praying that he would insist, which he did.
Sigh of relief.
So I set up my tent, went to sleep with all of my clothing on, including my boots.
Early in the morning, I woke up to the sound of someone moaning.
It was me. I was freezing.
When I went outside, I saw a St. Brigid’s rush cross outside my tent. I grabbed it and put it with my things. And then I went to have a pint. When I came back, my tent was gone.
The Englishman came up to me and said, “Your tent blew away. I caught it and put it in the house, with your pack and all.”
“Ah, Jesus, I’m sorry. Thanks so much. I’ll just get it and be on my way.”
“You can’t. You’ll die from the cold. You can sleep in the house tonight, in the kitchen.”
“Thank you, but I can’t do that. Your wife would murder you.”
“Who do you think put that cross outside your tent? It wasn’t me.”
“Oh. I really am very sorry…”
“Don’t be sorry. Just come inside and be warm.”
So we had tea. I had a hot shower. When I was finished, they’d made me supper.
“I can’t thank you enough…”
They both started laughing.
“Thank you for everything. And thank you for the cross.”
The woman (still laughing) said, “You’re very welcome. Hold onto it, would you?”
And I did, for years. But it was made from rushes, and eventually, it fell into ruin.
So I went to buy another. The shop I went to had no rush crosses, only one St. Brigid’s cross, made from pewter. It was more than I could afford, but I bought it anyway.
Still hangs over my kitchen door.
Can’t say whether or not I believe in all of what’s told about St. Brigid.
But I definitely believe in the man from Manchester, and his lovely wife, St. Siobhan.