Caring, smart and “tough as old boots” – St. Brigid remains an inspiration for women
Unruly women. uncontrollable women. unconventional women. This is Brigid’s legacy, and it is as important as the miracle worker legends that surround her name. Whether abbess or goddess, rule-breaker or Realpolitiker – her image is composite – she is an icon for female leadership and independent thinking.
The new bank holiday, St. Brigid’s Day, is a welcome acknowledgment of a character who was equal parts holy woman and stick of dynamite. She looked at the flaws in her world and began to change them.
Examples of powerful women who have contributed to our history, politics and culture are essential as inspirational currency – many have been erased from the record. Brigid closes a gap. As activist Ailbhe Smyth said, “I don’t know of a woman who doesn’t need a good dose of Brigid at some point in her life.” In other words, courage and determination.
The new holiday has led to a host of tributes to Brigid, including from poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, who said: “The rediscovery of an earlier Ireland was an important element in the national movements leading to independence. We can still learn from the past.” Brigid is certainly an instructive example and there are many stories of her ingenuity.
At this distance, it’s difficult to know which stories are true and which legends are grafted on. But whoever she was, she must have been a woman. Shrinking Violets do not find several monasteries, including at Kildare, where a dual monastery of monks and nuns was under their rule.
Reading between the lines, she seems to have been a hardy woman and a practical woman who rolled up her sleeves. Stories tell that she was called to the monastery by her sheep to greet visitors, including Brendan the Navigator.
Many homes have a St. Brigid’s cross, that ingrained cultural symbol, and schoolchildren are still learning to weave it out of rushes in time for their February 1st feast day. It must be one of our oldest enduring traditions – a connection with our ancestors that stretches back 1,500 years.
She was voted out as a saint in a Vatican purge, but Ireland continues to honor her, and rightly so. In 1969, Brigid’s name was removed from the list of saints and her feast day was removed from the Catholic Church’s calendar as an early example of the culture of abandonment.
Her existence has been questioned, amid suspicions that she was not a Christian saint but was merged with a Celtic goddess of fertility. Numerous other early Saints were removed in the same cull.
“Pagan goddess or Catholic saint, what we know about Brigid through myth, legend and history is that she was a remarkable woman of many talents: a visionary, healer, warrior, rebel and a very perceptive strategist,” said Dr. Smyth narrated a Wild Women celebration of Brigid at the Lexicon Library in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, on the eve of St Brigid’s Day.
Not only did she defend the rights and lives of the people in her care, Dr. Smyth said she was also an astute strategist: “After all, you don’t end up owning half of Kildare without being smart, ambitious and – I’m speculating – probably as tough as old boots.”
The event celebrated the achievements of extraordinary women, including two female Presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, health campaigner Vicky Phelan and Countess Markievicz, Ireland’s first woman Minister of Government in 1919.
“Unfortunately, so little has changed. We are missing a legacy from Constance Markievicz,” said actress Lise-Ann McLaughlin, who played her on stage in a political satire, noting that in a century of Irish state no woman has been elected Taoiseach. “To think that we didn’t continue the fight is horrible,” she told the audience.
While Lá Fhéile Pádraig is a week-long celebration of the Irish, it is hoped that Lá Fhéile Bríde will prove to be a celebration of women’s contribution to Irish life. A scathing “I am Brigid” video from the State Department introduced some of today’s outstanding women – and such reminders are still essential because some people remain unmusical.
In a sermon by the Catholic Bishop of Elphin, Dr. Kevin Doran, last Sunday it was suggested that “toxic masculinity” was linked to “aggressive feminism” in an “each as bad as the other” seesaw. He said, “I may be wrong, but I wonder if toxic masculinity is in any way related to aggressive feminism, like two sides of the same coin.”
Well, while there’s nothing wrong with urging “delicacy” between the sexes like he did, the rest of his argument is almost father ted funny – unless it’s horrible.
A member of the hierarchy in a male-run institution who has abused her power in a variety of ways, including dominating women, accuses women of hostility. These nasty feminists are to blame for male hostility. I can’t imagine that such views are representative of local priests or nuns, but unfortunately he is part of the leadership. This is the same bishop who said it was a sin to vote yes in the abortion rights referendum and urged anyone who did so to come to confession.
Brigids are far more useful than bishops of his caliber. If Brigid had been gentle, she would not have become a nun – she would have done as her chief father said and mated with the man of his choice. No monasteries founded by her in this scenario.
She also founded an art school that produced the Book of Kildare – a splendid volume admired by the Norman scribe Giraldus Cambrensis, who said it contained almost as many drawings as pages.
“Among all the wonders of Kildare nothing seems to me more wonderful than this marvelous book, said to have been written in the life of the Virgin (Brigid) at the dictation of an angel,” he wrote. Unfortunately the Book of Kildare has since been lost.
Brigid’s skull is kept in a small church outside of Lisbon, where it was taken by three Irish warriors in the 13th century after their remains were unearthed. “St. Brigid, a virgin, a native of Ireland,” reads an inscription there. It’s high time we asked the Portuguese about this skull. We need our pioneering women right here, where we let them motivate us.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/caring-clever-and-as-tough-as-old-boots-st-brigid-remains-an-inspiration-for-women-42325559.html Caring, smart and “tough as old boots” – St. Brigid remains an inspiration for women