St Brigid’s cross. But she was born in Dundalk so who could blame her?

In a Word: All hail the patron saint of midwives, newborns, nuns, fugitives, blacksmiths, chicken farmers ...

Brigid, Brigit, Bridgid, Bridget? “I say father, and you say pater/I say mother and you say mater. Pater, mater, uncle, auntie let’s call the whole thing off ... ” Ah now, hold on there a minute. What we are talking about is a public holiday? A brand new one next Monday? You want to call that off? Of course not.

So welcome Brigid, Brigit, Bridgid, Bridget, by any of those names you are – along with Patrick and Colmcille – one of Ireland’s three patron saints. So good we were given three. Unlike the male pair, she is also patron saint of midwives, newborns, Irish nuns, fugitives, blacksmiths, dairymaids, boatmen, chicken farmers, cattle, scholars, and sailors. Where does she get the time?

Chicken farmers? Really?

Her feast day was last Wednesday, February 1st – the first day of spring where our ancestors were concerned. It marked the festival of Imbolc, halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.


But who wants a public holiday on a Wednesday, marking a brief oasis in the working week, when it could be added to Saturday and Sunday giving a three-day break continuing through Monday? So it has come to pass, with next Monday designated our 10th public holiday in the year.

Same as Northern Ireland. Pity England (try!), Scotland, and Wales where they have just eight this year. (Hmmm ... 15 in Lithuania, 14 in Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Croatia, Cyprus, Sweden, 11 in France and US! We must review the situation.)

Back to the marvellous – “brace yourself” – Brigid, Brigit, Bridgid, Bridget. She was born in AD 451, in Dundalk (you can’t have everything), and long before the former Harp brewery was immaculately conceived there she too was a brewer.

Several of her miracles are associated with beer. Of course, in that too she was following in the footsteps of Jesus, whose first miracle also involved alcohol, though in his case it was wine.

In Brigid, Brigit, Bridgid, Bridget’s day beer was seen as a sanitary, more nutritious alternative to water, much as it remains today. Once asked for help by a party of thirsty lepers, she noticed some bathwater and transformed it into beer. She once changed dirty bathwater into clean beer for visiting priests. Do not try this at home.

Enjoy the long weekend.

From Irish Brighid, brigh meaning ‘strength’ in old Irish.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times