Saint Brigids Day, a new bank holiday and the Saint Brigids Cross.
From 2023, there is a new annual public holiday in early February to mark St Brigid’s Day. The public holiday is the first Monday in February, except where St Brigid’s day (1 February) happens to fall on a Friday, in which case that Friday 1 February will be a public holiday. This is in recognition of the efforts of the general public and Ireland’s frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and in remembrance of people who lost their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Rural Tradition
Every year at around this time you will see children returning from school or playschool proudly holding a cross made of rushes. It is a tradition in the west of Ireland and particularly Connemara that one of these is made for every house on the 31st January and hung there for the year on the 1st February, the feast day of St Brigid.
Hanging Brigid’s cross from the rafters of one’s house was believed to bring the blessing and protection of the saint for the remainder of the year. Traditionally a cross would then have been ploughed into the ground with the first crops of the year to ensure their success, and replaced in the house with a new one.
The Crois Bride or Brigids Cross is a national symbol of Ireland alongside the Shamrock and the Celtic Harp. If you keep your eyes open you will see them everywhere in Connemara, hung out of the way in quiet corner
Origins of the tradition:
As is very common with festivals and feast days in areas with a strong Celtic and Pagan heritages there are different stories as to the origin of the tradition. Depending on who you talk to the cross is ascribed to either Christian Saint Brigid of Kildare or the Pagan goddess Bridgid.
The Christian Saint Brigid was said to have woven a cross to show a dying man the symbol of Christ, and having seen it he asked to be Christened. There are also other accounts of how she used it to cure herself from poison.Saint Brigid is the only female patron saint of Ireland.
Many of the folk lore attributes of Saint Brigid have great similarities to the pagan grain goddess Brigid.
Brigit or Bríg is a goddess of pre-Christian Celtic tradition which was very strong in Connemara. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán.
The 1st of February is also the start of the pagan festival of Imbolc, a festival of the start of spring and the recommencing of the agricultural year. It is not unusual to find ancient festivals and practices appropriated by the Christian Faiths, as ancient people would not have liked to lose their feast days when they changed religion! The weaving of rushes is also linked to the harvest festival where wheat straw is woven into intricate shapes, harvest knots and harvest stars. The Celtic tradition focused more on the diamond shape in the middle than the actual cross.
How to Make A Brigids Cross.
The design is very simple, and there is a short video below to show you how to make your own.
I can guarantee that should you watch it sooner or later you will find yourself picking rushes and weaving them in to a cross with great care. You will never be far from rushes in Connemara!
A collection of Brigid’s crosses collected by the Irish Folklore Commission is on display at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life which is near Castlebar and is an interesting spot to pass an hour or two.