Annual National Pilgrimage to St. Brigid’s Shrine, Faughart, takes place on Sunday, 2nd July
St Brigid’s Day is an important feast day, not only in the Christian calendar but in Irish culture and heritage.
There are many traditions and stories associated with St Brigid, one of Ireland’s three patron saints along with St Patrick and St Colmcille. Her feast day on February 1 coincides with the ancient, pre-Christian festival of Imbolc which marked the end of winter and the first day of spring.
Today, January 31 is the eve of her feast day and is an important day in preparing for St Brigid’s Day and for the year ahead.
The best known St Brigid’s Day tradition by far in the making of crosses using fresh rushes. These are woven in homes, schools and community gatherings across the country. And while there are a few variations on the shape and style of the cross, the tradition is one that has remained largely unchanged for more than 1,000 years.
Crosses made on St Brigid’s Eve are brought to the church on St Brigid’s Day to be blessed. It is believed that crosses hung in homes protect the house from fire and hunger. Traditionally, the old cross is thrown into the fire as the new one is hung in its place.
There won’t be any St Brigid’s Cross gatherings today but some communities are offering online versions. And even if we can’t be physically together, by making crosses in our own homes we are contributing to a tradition that has survived persecution, famine, mass emigration and the changes of the modern world.
It will of course be different this year due to Covid-19, but no less important. For those hoping to get crosses blessed, some parishes have made arrangements for them to be left in the church for blessing. Individual parish priests will be able to advise on the plans for each community.
Another St Brigid’s Eve tradition is to leave out a piece of cloth, rag or ribbon overnight and to bring it inside in the early morning before the dew dries. These rags are known as Bratóga Bhríde and are believed to bring healing to the sick and protection to the household.
Donegal County Museum has mentioned another lovely tradition - the sharing of a pot of Brúitín which is mashed potatoes, butter and milk. This lovely, warming meal is shared after the crosses are made and is certainly a fitting way to mark the last day of winter.