Ireland has a new bank holiday: St Brigid’s Day, the first to be in honour of a woman. From 2023, it is marked on the first Monday in February.
St Brigid is one of Ireland's three patron saints, alongside St Colmcille and St Patrick.
Like so many Irish celebrations, the Catholic saint’s day on 1 February in fact replaced a much older pagan Celtic festival, Imbolc, which celebrated a goddess also called Brigid. Similarly, Halloween, connected by the Church to All Saint’s Day, is based on the Celtic feast of Samhain.
Imbolc and both Brigids are connected with the coming of spring and fertility. The goddess is also linked to poetry, healing and fire. The saint is said to have refused the marriage to a rich man her father wanted for her, preferring to become a nun. She the King of Leinster for land to build a monastery and when he said she could have as much land as her cloak covered, it miraculously grew to the size of a building.
In this video, musician Caitlín Nic Gabhann tells the legend of St Brigid's cloak and plays the piece of music she has composed for St Brigid's Day.
People traditionally make straw crosses, often in a diamond shape, on the eve of St Brigid’s Day to receive her protection.
For several years, the Irish government has been encouraging events that honour notable women of St Brigid’s Day and have now decided to make it an official holiday. In 2024, Ireland will mark the 1,500th anniversary of St Brigid’s death with a special programme of events nationwide.
The mural of Brigid at the top of the page was created by Northern Ireland-based artist Friz for the SEEK urban arts festival in Dundalk, Ireland. She describes the inspiration for the mural on their site.
What of the other patron saints? St Patrick needs no introduction. St Patrick’s Day, 17 March, is the national day. St Colmcille or Columba’s Day is 9 June. He founded many monasteries including the one on the Scottish island of Iona, which was renowned as a vente if learning. The Books of Kells and Lindisfarne were created in Columban monasteries.
Failte Ireland Courtesy Martin McElligott
Courtesy Gareth Wray