Tuesday, 9 February 2016

'A matter of holiness with wheels under it '

Photo credit: http://conversion-religion-catholique.com/
Yesterday we were posed a question by Daphne Pochin Mould: 'Can we, in fact, sum up the essential characteristics of the real Brigid and her life?' and we will bring this octave of posts in honour of our national patroness to a close with her answer:

To some extent, we can. Brigid is, in a sense, a democratic saint, a woman who made good in spite of the handicap of birth and breeding. She was, quite obviously, a girl of great determination and the ability to get her own way, she made up her mind to give herself wholly to God and overcame all the obstacles in her path. She was a woman of God and of prayer,  but if the legends mean anything at all, she was also a woman of the people. She did not cut herself off from the world inside the Kildare rath; she went out from it to help people, spiritually and materially, to bring aid wherever it was needed. This combination of total dedication to God, of the life of prayer with practical ability, knowledge and common sense, is still as much needed in modern life as in the Ireland of St. Brigid. The statues showing Brigid standing still are all wrong; they give an impression of a static saint; whereas the reality would seem to have been a matter of holiness with wheels under it, Brigid in her chariot with horses at the trot. The modern Irish woman can move a great deal faster, but the direction in which to steer remains a good one, and for which there is still a need.

D.D.C. Pochin Mould, Saint Brigid (Dublin and London, 1964), 74.

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Monday, 8 February 2016

Saint Brigid - an Outdated Patron Saint?

As the Octave of the Feast of Saint Brigid draws to a close we return to the 1964 study of Saint Brigid by Daphne Pochin Mould. In her final chapter, 'Saint Brigid and Modern Ireland'  the author makes the point that the traditional way of life with which Saint Brigid was so intimately connected has now disappeared:
...Times have changed. Modern life leaves little leisure for the gracious round of folk custom, modern discoveries have replaced prayer and traditional skill with surer methods. The modern hospital, the ambulance plane, the vet with a whole litany of modern drugs at his disposal; these are the things to which mainlander and islander now turn for help in trouble. There is no need today to use any of the ancient prayers to Brigid for help, when we look for it rather at the end of a telephone line! Even the way of country life is so changed that the old prayers cease to have point or place. The fire is no longer smoored but switched off! 
Thus one may say that a whole section, and a very large section, of the cult of Brigid is linked to a way of life that is no more.  
On the other hand, should one go on to claim that Brigid herself is irrelevant to modern Ireland; that the country should change to some more contemporary patron? Does Brigid still set a headline for Irishwomen, and Irishmen for that matter? Can we, in fact, sum up the essential characteristics of the real Brigid and her life?
D.D.C. Pochin Mould, Saint Brigid (Dublin and London, 1964), 73-74.

Answer tomorrow!

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Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Most Beautiful Star in the Sky of Ireland

Such are the accounts of the legendaries. And while some gathered these fantastic stories, others related the daily wonders of her life and the benefits which her solicitous mercy unceasingly scattered over the little and the poor. She had passed everywhere, everywhere her charity had left ineffaceable traces, and the country of Kildare had not a rivulet, a house, or a stone, which did not relate a virtue or a miracle of Bridget.* Can we wonder that so alluring a history charmed the imagination and the heart of a poetic race, and that the sweet form of the heroine shines radiantly amid the saints of the legend as the most beautiful star in the sky of Ireland?

* Topog. Hiberniae. 

L. Tachet de Barneval, 'The Saints of Erin' -  Legendary History of Ireland (Boston, 1857), p.73.

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Saturday, 6 February 2016

Saint Brigid 'the most generous heart'

In the stories which nourished the easy faith of the Irish people, and which enlivened their misery; in the inexhaustible, yet simple, story of charity, one name returns more frequently than others; it is the name of St. Bridget. Bridget was the most generous heart, the tenderest and most feeling soul among all these holy souls, all these benevolent hearts that loved and succored poor Ireland; but it seems, too, as though the popular imagination took pleasure in portraying, in the form of a woman,  the sweetest of powers, the dearest of virtues.

L. Tachet de Barneval, 'The Saints of Erin' -  Legendary History of Ireland (Boston, 1857), p.67

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Friday, 5 February 2016

Saint Brigid the Peacemaker

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid the Peacemaker

She was also gifted with an extraordinary power of reconciling disputes between neighbors. She was often appealed to in cases of this sort, and she scarcely ever failed in arranging matters amicably. Sometimes she adjusted the dispute by her good sound sense, sometimes by her miraculous power. On one occasion, she was met by two brothers of the O'Neill family, who were contending at the time for the supreme authority. Clonald, on meeting Saint Bridget, asked her blessing, as he was pursued by his brother Corpreus, who was anxious to take away his life, in order that he might enjoy his father's kingdom. Saint Bridget blessed him, and they had not advanced many steps, when Corpreus was seen advancing with his men. Saint Bridget's companions became dreadfully alarmed, but she told them not to fear, that there would be no encounter between the hostile bands. Clonald stands still, and Corpreus embraces him at the request of Saint Bridget. After a short stop, they both took their respective courses, each quite unconscious of having embraced the enemy whom he intended to despatch in the first warlike encounter.

The Life of Saint Bridget, "The Mary of Erin" by an Irish Priest (New York, 1861),

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Mary of Erin

...The Irish always had a most tender love for the Blessed Virgin, and Saint Bridget was called by the Irish saints "the second Mary," "the Mary of Erin." Nothing could give us a more exalted idea of her sanctity, nothing could express their love more forcibly. To place her near the mother of God would be a great honor; to place her next her is the greatest mark of respect they could pay her. Mary was their refuge in every danger, and to honor both by the same act, they called them by the same name.

But this did not satisfy the piety of these holy men. They wished to extol her still more. She is called the "Mother of Christ" partly on account of her great resemblance to the Blessed Virgin, and partly on account of her perfection; for Christ himself has said," that he, who does my will, is my father and my mother." In this sense she deserved this title, for the will of God was "her meat and her drink;" she was never so happy as when she was carrying out the designs of His mercy.

The Life of Saint Bridget, "The Mary of Erin" by an Irish Priest (New York, 1861), 169-170.

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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Teagasc Bhríde - Brigid's Instruction

Gaelic Journal, Vol. 4, No. 46 (1893)
We continue the octave of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a look at one of the lesser-known poems preserved in the oral tradition - Teagasc Bhríde - Brigid's Instruction or Teaching. Daphne Pochin Mould on page 67 of her 1964 study of Saint Brigid introduces it thus:
A fairly long poem called Brigid's Instruction, Teagasc Bhríde, was known throughout Ireland from at least the beginning of the 18th century. Fragments have been collected from Irish speakers at the beginning of the present century. Brigid appears to the author of the poem and explains that she has been allowed back to earth to give him the instruction that will bring him to the City of Glory, where Jesus Christ sits with his mother beside him.
Ireland's first President, Dr Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), took down a version of the poem from a monoglot Irish speaker, Martin Rua O Gillarná from Lisanishka near Monivea, County Galway, and included it in the first volume of his Religious Songs of Connacht. I have reproduced only the English translation as I don't have time to transcribe the Irish original from the old script. The volume is available online if you wish to see both versions on facing pages. The illustration on the left is from another version referred to by Hyde in one of his footnotes. Somehow I doubt that Brigid's Instruction will have much appeal to either the neo-pagan followers of the goddess Brigid or to the contemporary followers of 'Celtic Christianity'. What we have here is an expression of an older strain of popular Irish Catholicism altogether:


The teaching of Breed for his good to the sinner,  
To take his father's advice and blessing, 
To plead for ever with Mary Mother, 
A guiding-star to our foolish women.

The Son of the Woman who earned no scandal, 
 The Son who never forgot the Father, 
 It was He himself who made our purchase, 
 And through His side that the lance's thrust went. 

 The poem goes on to say of those who have no pleasure in alms or in mercy : 

 The darkest night in this world at present 
 Dark without mist or stars or moonlight, 
 Is brighter than their day when brightest. 

 Could you come with me but once, and see it, 
 You would sooner be hacked in little pieces, 
 Be boiled, be burned, and be roasted,
Be put in an oven till you had perished, 
 Be ground in a quern with hundreds grinding, 
- Sooner than live in a sin that is mortal. 

 Go to Mass when you rise at morning, 
 As you should do, regard the altar. 
 See, Christ Jesus is thereby standing, 
 In the priest's hand is His sacred body. 

 Go home again when that is finished, 
 Give wanderers lodging until the morning, 
 Food and drink to him who is empty. 

 Is your friend ill, or on sick-bed lying, 
 Bring him whatever will give him comfort, 
- Never earn the curse of widow. 

 When to your bed you get at night-time 
 Go on your knees your prayers repeating, 
 Do the same when you rise next morning.

 What the poem chiefly teaches is to do good deeds : 

Do good deeds without lie or falsehood, 
 Do without lie good deeds on earth here, 
 That is the one straight way to follow, 
 That is the road, and go not off it.

D. Hyde, ed. and trans., Abhráin Diadha Chúige Connacht or The Religious Songs of Connacht, Cuid I (London and Dublin, 1906), 96-101. 

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