Lá Fhéile Bríde (Brigid’s Day)

Today is February 1. It was an important day for our Irish and Celtic ancestors. “Anois teacht an Earraigh, is an lá ag dul chun síne, Tar éis na Féile Bríde, ardóigh mé mo sheol”. “Now that Spring is come and the days grow longer, After the Feast of Brigid, I will hoist my sail”, Yes, friends, today is the Feast of Brigid, and in the calendar of our ancestors, it was the first official day of the New Year, the first day of Spring, after the cold Winter of privation, and the stocks of stored food were running low.

The image of Brigid in today’s Ireland is very much a conflation of two separate images. The dominant pubic image for many decades, even centuries, was the Christianised and sanitized one of a pious nun who founded a convent in Kildare and for some unexplained reason kept an eternal fire burning there. Murmurs that she may have been the daughter of a pagan (sic!) druid were just that, murmurs.

But those murmurs provide a link to the other Brigid, the triune Goddess of the Celtic world of linked tribes spread over Europe from the Anatolian plains of Turkey to the bogs below Belmullet in the West of Ireland. Brigid was worshipped in the form of a trinity of images, the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone (Maighdean, Máthair, Cailleach). In that guise she was the consort of the tribal leader who guided his people with her aid to sow, to cultivate, to reap and to harvest and repeat that cycle of life and living so central to the Celts and their spiritual beliefs. It was fundamental to their understanding of their links with the living world around them and to their belief in the sacred ties that bind us to our own places and to the spirits that inhabit them. In our druidic prayers we invite our ancestor spirits to come sit and warm themselves beside our fires and to whisper to us on the winds.

There is another aspect of Brigid too and I would like to draw your attention to it after the successful protests throughout Ireland yesterday. Every parish in Ireland has its sacred well, even wells, which are associated with Brigid. Tobair Bhríde, or Brigid’s Wells. Those wells were sacred to the Irish people long before Christianity was brought here. And even now, despite the Christianisation of the practice, many people still honour the Goddess when they make a visit to those wells, seeking solace and healing. As I watched the marches in different parts of the country yesterday, I began to think of them as linking today’s expressions and demands for water as a human right and not a commodity to be traded like rags at a market, but rather as highlighting our links to an ancient tribal heritage and human rights that go to the heart of our democracy. The four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water were at the heart of the cultures that formed and built our understanding of democratic ideals. And that is the other link I wish to emphasise even at the expense of repeating a point that I have made already in other discussion threads.

Ireland’s Celtic heritage and more specifically its Gaelic traditions is one of the oldest living connections we have with Europe. It is almost 2,000 years since Irish scholars and scribes learned the art of writing from Greek and Roman sources and together with those civilisations formed a triad that brought written literature to Europe and preserved the knowledge and learning of Europe through the Dark Ages. I feel very strongly that we have unwittingly slipped again into a Dark Age where we are witnessing “the beating down of great men, and great art beaten down” by the new Barbarians who worship only money and wealth and seek to destroy every connection with the Cosmic Spirit which like a hologram is present in every part of our cosmos. As above, so below. As within, so without.

That is why today, as we celebrate the Feast of Brigid and remember her as a Goddess of Three, I am also celebrating a heritage that has an important contribution to make as we address the complex problems ranging from an unacceptable additional layer of taxation in the form of water charges to the broader issues facing Europe. Some people scoff and say, what have we, in Ireland, in common with Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal? They will only drag us back into austerity. That view is mistaken. We no longer use the Great Atlantic Western Waterway from the Orkneys to the Mediterranean because the forests of Europe have been destroyed. But we still have a shared and ancient tradition of European culture and endeavour. We need that again as we face the Barbarians who are at the gate. I treasure the words of Samuel Becket: “I can’t go on. I must go on. I will go on”.

“Muscail do mhisneach, a Bhanba” (Awaken you courage, Ireland)

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