The Irish make up one of the largest groups of settlers in our North Carolina mountains. Many of these were Scots Irish who could not stay in either land but were tenacious here. Part of Eileen McCullough’s book, More Than Blarney: The Irish Influence in Appalachia (Old Fort, NC: Wolfhound Press, 1997) tells their story. In her informative, well-written book, she writes about the similarities between the people of Ireland and Appalachia. (Does celebrating St. Patrick’s Day count?) If you feel a fondness for Ireland, land of your forebears or not, there is good news.
In February, Ireland celebrates a new national holiday — the first honoring a woman. St. Brigid’s Day, traditionally falling on Feb. 1, will now be held on the first Monday of the month, or on Feb. 1 if it is a Friday, still giving people the long weekend.
According to The Sunday Times, the Irish government named this “10th Bank Holiday after the patron saint as part of the pandemic bonus to thank the public in general, and frontline workers in particular” for “enormous sacrifices made by Irish people during the COVID pandemic and (to) highlight better times ahead.” Ireland has three official patron saints: St. Brigid, St. Patrick and St. Colmcille (or Columba). I’ll bet St. Brigid would like this new official holiday. She was generous. She is much loved in Ireland by those who know of her.
Sometime before St. Brigid (c. 451- 525) there was a pagan goddess, Brigid. With the coming of Christianity, some of St. Brigid’s characteristics may have been attributed to her from the pagan agrarian goddess Brigid. Feb. 1 is also the date of the ancient festival of Imbolc — a time when planting can begin (after the festivities!). It was considered the first day of spring — a festival an earth mother goddess would have loved. Indeed, among other things, goddess Brigid was known for springtime, poetry, healing and fire. Some believe that a sacred fire was kept on a hilltop in Kildare before Christian times in Ireland for the goddess Brigid, who protected herds and grains. St. Brigid started a monastery in Kildare and continued to protect the fire. A perpetual flame burns in Kildare town square today.
So, a new holiday — spread the word! What will you do to celebrate St. Brigid’s Day? Lighting a candle and setting out a Brigid yard flag might be it for me this year, but, just so you know, legend says that St. Brigid turned water into beer!
— Carol Diamond