Brigid, 'the Mary of the Gael', as she has been known to generations
of Irish people, commands affection and respect. She is remembered
for her hospitality and hard work, as a woman of God and a woman
of the people. A powerful personality, who appealed to all,
from those on high to the humble beggar. This is her story.
life begins in Faughart, a few miles from Dundalk, county Louth,
in the year 453. Her father is a chieftain named Dubthach, and
her mother is Brocessa, a Christian bondswoman. Shortly after
Brigid's birth, Dubthach's wife persuades him to send Brocessa
away, to Murroe in east Limerick. Brigid is put to fosterage.
When she comes of an age to be useful,
Brigind returns to her father's house, taking her mother's
place in the usual round of bondswoman's duties - minding
the livestock, serving at meals, etc. It is already
apparent that Brigid has a calling as she constantly
reaches out to the poor. She keeps a store of clothes
and food for them, and requisitions her father's property
when there is nothing else available!
wife is less than tolerant of this behaviour, and she
prevails on her husband to offload Brigid elsewhere. He
takes his daughter in a chariot to the king of Leinster
to see if he can strike a deal. Brigid is left outside
in the chariot, and while there, a leper approaches her,
seeking alms. Without hesitation, Brigid hands over her
father's sword, an item of great value. In the warlike
province of Leinster, this says more than words can capture
about Brigid's system of values.
|Needless to say, these
values do not correspond with her father's, and he is
furious when he discovers her action. Fortunately for
Brigid, the king of Leinster is present, and he checks
Dubthach's rage, saying: "Leave her alone, for her
merit before God is greater than ours." Thus Brigid
returns home, and through this incident, is delivered
time, Dubthach tries to arrange a marriage for his daughter,
but she isn't interested. She chooses a life of virginity,
a life of service to God and to the poor. Brigid starts
with seven, and together, they approach St Maccaille for
At first, Maccaille is doubtful
of the wisdom of Brigid's decision, thinking it a case
of misdirected zeal. However, the more time he spends
with Brigid and her postulants, the more he comes to
see that the hand of God is guiding them.
And so Maccaille receives their vows, and Brigid establishes
a novitiate under his direction. In due course, the women
are brought to the bishop of Ardagh, St Mel, who receives
their final vows and places the white veils on their heads.
Mel's request, Brigid founds a convent at Ardagh, the
first convent of strict religious observance to be established
on Irish soil. It soon becomes a centre of great activity,
as many women of noble birth leave their homes and flock
to the shelter of the convent. Thousands come to receive
instruction in the Christian faith.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Brigid sees potential
in what she has achieved in Ardagh, and leaves to see
if this success can be repeated elsewhere. Accompanied
by a group of sisters and her spiritual guide, Natfraoich,
she sets out on a journey around the country. Everywhere
she goes in Munster and Connaght, postulants come to
her. This is a movement that has been waiting to happen.
Brigid's approach to the establishment
of new foundations is of the hands-on variety. She supervises
all the work connected with the building of the wattle
huts for the new sisters, and as soon as she sees the
new convent staffed, she starts off to repeat the work
Brigid's most famous foundation
is at Kildare, where she receives a generous grant of
land from the king of Leinster. Kildare flourishes into
a centre of pilgrimage for bishops, priests and chieftains.
Kings vie with one another in showering rich gifts and
royal favours upon the cloisters presided over by Brigid.
The poor and the infirm come in their multitudes.
genius for leadership and organisation comes into its
own. A woman of wisdom and commonsense, she makes provision
for the sick, tending to them with her knowledge of
contemporary medicine. She established schools, she
sets sisters to work making vestments, and she organises
the Episcopal government of her city. More than anything
else, however, Brigid is renowned for her hospitality.
After some years in charge at Kildare,
Brigid is the most prominent religious leader in the
Liffey plain. Many and notable are the names who come
to her for help. St Fiach, bishop of Sletty, seeks her
guidance in the founding of his monastery in Laoghis,
as does St Finnian for his monastery at Clonard.
It is a long and productive life in the
service of others. Brigid dies shortly after here 70th
birthday. Her spirit lives on in the hospitality afforded
by the nuns at Kildare, and she is remembered in posterity
as a patron of Irish women and motherhood, someone to
call on for help in domestic matters.