Being a Brigid can shape the kind of person you are

St Brigid, whose feast day it is, was a friend to the poor and sick. I felt duty bound to my name

Brigid O’Dea: my mom found out she was pregnant on February 1st, Lá Fhéile Bríde, the day we make reed crosses in school and sing a song to Brigid. Photograph: Alan Betson

Some of you may be familiar with the phenomenon “nominative determinism”. First coined by New Scientist magazine 16 years ago, it hypothesises that people’s names influence what they do in life.

So Paul Singer will win The X Factor and Laura Flood will build a sea defence wall.

I have a soft fondness for the theory. There is a knitwear designer that I adore called Pearl Reddington. Pearl! How could she be anything but an artist with that name? Much the same with Irish illustrator Fuchsia Macaree.

My mom found out she was pregnant on February 1st, Lá Fhéile Bríde; the day we make reed crosses in school and sing a song to Brigid. There were a number of remarkable Brigids, or variations thereof, in my parents’ lives, and a brother called Brian. Nine months later (well just short of eight) along I came.


But I like to think there was more to it than this.

My mom would have liked the story of Brigid. And perhaps what the name would mean for her daughter. Brigid the saint, whose charity angered her enslaving father; who relinquished her beauty so she would not be pledged to a man. And Brigid the pagan figure, the triple deity, the sisterhood of Brigids. Goddesses of poetry, healing, fertility and smiths.

Soft and strong

My mom was kind, and soulful, brave and daring; many of the traits represented in the figure of Brigid. She knitted cardigans for friends’ babies and marched in hare coursing protests; an ardent feminist who derived most satisfaction from making a home for her family. Brigid is soft and Brigid is strong. And I imagine my mom wished to foster these traits in her offspring.

So how would this name determine my course in life?

I was often reminded during my childhood that Brigid was a friend to the poor and the sick and the animals. I felt duty bound to my name. I thought about being a Brigid when I dreamt of being a zookeeper, when I sat piously in the pews at Mass, or befriended a new classmate. I thought about being a Brigid when I stood up for myself, and felt my cloak of confidence grow.

“Brigid O’Dea,” my dad would say, “That’s a strong name. It’s like Sinead O’Connor.”

Brigid's head pain was mentioned nonchalantly in a book, and I felt deceived not to have known this information sooner

When you Googled it, it largely brought up obituaries but that too, I thought, would only give mischievous Brigid a giggle.

I didn’t think as much about being a Brigid when my head ached. I didn’t connect with the spring goddess when as a child, every Sunday afternoon (it was always Sundays), my cheeks would flush and a cloud would descend upon my head. I didn’t think of the daughter of Broicsech and Dubhthach when, in later years, I felt migraines rise with a frantic rush of energy.

But it seems here too, I was a Brigid.


It is reported, you see, that Brigid, too suffered from headaches. In fact, by some reports, our patron saint was afflicted with chronic headaches.

It was only recently I found this out. Brigid’s head pain was mentioned nonchalantly in a book, and I felt deceived not to have known this information sooner.

Was my sore head destined?

Fortunately, Brigid was successful in finding relief for her pain. Brigid’s headaches were apparently cured by Áed Mac Bricc, Bishop of Killare (Westmeath).

Benevolent St Áed relieved headaches for others by accepting the pain upon himself. This martyr became renowned for his curative abilities, and Brigid, suffering from the most severe headache, called upon Áed, who accepted her pain immediately and granted her relief to her dying day.

It seems some of Áed's curative abilities have been passed on to our dear Brigid. It is a well-known tradition in Ireland to tie a piece of cloth, know as a brat Brighide, around a brush, the night before St Brigid's Day. This is then taken in the following day, and can be called upon to tie around sore heads (and throats) to bring relief.

I’m not sure whether Brigid’s headache affliction is widely known. Perhaps it’s common information that just passed me by. My parents, however, certainly didn’t know and didn’t intend it as part of the Brigid package.

Curative magic

They did, however, name their subsequent son Hugh, which translates to Aodh as Gaeilge, or Áed in its old form. Perhaps, unbeknownst to themselves, they knew their Brigid would require a little curative magic at some point in her life, and this they brought to the world in his sweet abundance two years later.

Now, this Áed may not as yet have eradicated my migraines, but he does in his own way know how to make me feel better.

Beannachtaí na Féile Bríde oraibh go léir!