For over a decade we have been making an annual pilgrimage to the Parish Church of Saint Brigid of Kildare, Kildare Town. Today we returned to do honour to the Patroness of Ireland.
Bishop Comerford in his Collections Relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin, Vol. 2 (1886) under the Parish of Kildare says:
"Ancient Kildare is believed to have stood a little to the west of the present town. From a passage in the Book of Leinster, quoted by O’Curry, (Lectures, p. 487,) it appears that the place was previously named Drumcree, (Druimcriadh, ie. “the Ridge of Clay.”) It received its present appellation “from a goodly, high oak,” under the shadow of which St. Brigid constructed her cell. “When the most glorious virgin, Brigid, returned to her own country,” writes her Biographer, Cogitosus, Bishop of Kildare, in the 10th century, “she was received with great honour and with the great joy of the whole Province, and there a cell was assigned unto her in which this Saint of God led a wonderful life. There she erected a monastery of many virgins, and there, in honour of St. Brigid, a very great city afterwards sprung up which is at this day the Metropolis of the Lagenians. That cell is called in the Scotic, Cill-dara, which sounds in Latin, Cella Quercus, i.e. the cell of the oak. For there was a very high oak tree there which St. Brigid loved much and blessed; of which the trunk still (circa A.D. 980,) remains. No one dares to cut it with a weapon; but he who can break off any part of it with his hands, deems it a great advantage, hoping for the aid of God by means of it; because through the benediction of St. Brigid, many miracles have been performed by that wood. The same name which this cell bore, the city also is named.” (Vita IV. St. Brigidoe, lib. II. c. 3, Tr. Thaum.) St. Brigid established herself at Kildare some time about the year 470, to which period, therefore, the town can trace its foundation.
St. Brigid was born at Faughart, now a village in the Diocese of Armagh, and County of Louth, probably in the year 453. Her father, Dubhtach, and her mother, Brocessa or Brotseach, were both distinguished for their noble descent and their Christian virtues, “Sancta itaque Brigida, quam Deus praescivit ad suam imaginem et praedestinavit, a Christianis, nobilibusque parentibus genita.” (Cogitosus.) The same is repeated in the Prologue to the Vita VI., or metrical Life of the Saint, by Cilien of Iniskeltra. (Tr. Thaum.)
“Dubhtacus ejus erat genitor cognomine dictus,
Clarus homo meritis, clarus et a proavis;
Nobilis atque humilis, mitis, pietate repletus;
Nobilior propria conjuge, prole pia.”
Dubhtach was descended of Eochad, brother of the celebrated Con of the Hundred Battles; and Brotseach was of the noble race of Dal Conchobhair or O’Conor. The parents of the Saint belonged to the district of Leinster; whether her being born at Fauchart was owing to their having a residence there also, or to their having been on a visit there at the time, cannot now be determined. Her biographer, Cogitosus, tells us that she received a good education: - “A sua pueritia bonarum literarum studiis inolevit;” and even in her childhood that extraordinary charity towards the poor, which so distinguished her in after life, manifested itself. Having grown up, she declined various offers of marriage, declaring her purpose of serving God in the Religious Life. In fulfilment of this resolution she had recourse to a holy Bishop named Maccaille, who had a Church at Cruachan-Bri-Eile, in Ifalgia, now the Hill of Croghan, where the site of his Church is still observable, and where his feast was celebrated on the 25th of April. The Bishop being satisfied as to her holy dispositions, received her to Religious Profession, by clothing her with a white mantle and placing a veil of the same colour on her head. Such was the dress of the early Irish nuns, and so it continued for some centuries after the time of St. Brigid :– “Ille, coeleste intuens desiderium, et pudicitiam, et tantam castitatis amorem in tali virgine, pallium album et vestem candidam super ipsius venerabile caput imposuit.” (Cogitosus.) The Profession of the Saint took place about the years 467 or 469. We are not here concerned about the first Communities founded by St. Brigid; the fame of her holiness having spread abroad, the people of her native place sent to invite her to found a Convent amongst them. In compliance with this request, she established herself at Kildare sometime about the year 470. Her first house there was a mere cell; after some time however, the number of those who flocked thither to serve God under her guidance became so great that she had to apply herself to the construction of a monastery of large proportions. This took place, according to Ware, in 480, but other authorities place the date somewhat later. For the details of the wonderful life of this great Servant of God the reader is referred to the Lives of the Irish Saints, by the Rev. J. O’Hanlon, M.R.I.A. The year in which St. Brigid died is uncertain; without entering into the merits of the disputed point, it will be sufficient to state that the weight of authority appears to favour the accuracy of the entry in the Annals of Ulster which assigns it to the year 523, in the 70th year of her age. “A.D. 523, Quies S. Brigidae, an. lxx aetatis suae.” The Annals of Donegal, at Feb. 1st, after tracing her illustrious descent, say, “It was Ultan of Ard-Breccain that collected the (account of the) virtues and miracles of Brigid together, and he commanded his disciple, Brogan to put them into poetry.” The Poem of St. Brogan-Cloen in praise of St. Brigid, here referred to, may be seen—both the original Irish and a Latin translation—in the I. E. Record for February, 1868. It was composed about the year 650, partly in the Monastery of St. Moedhoc, at Clonmore, in the County of Carlow. The Annals of Donegal, still treating of St. Brigid, say of her: –“It was this Brigid that did not take her mind or her attention from the Lord for the space of one hour at any time, but was constantly mentioning Him, and ever constantly thinking of Him, as is evident in her own Life, and also in the Life of St. Brenainn, Bishop of Cluainfearta. She was very hospitable and very charitable to guests and to needy people. She was humble, and attended to the herding of sheep and early rising, as her Life proves, and as Cuimin of Coindaire states in the Poem whose beginning is:– ‘Patrick of the fort of Macha loved,’ &c. Thus he says:–
‘The Blessed Virgin loved
Constant piety, which was not prescribed;
Sheep-herding and early rising,
Hospitality towards men of virtues.’
“She spent indeed 74 years diligently serving the Lord, per¬forming signs and miracles, curing every disease, and sickness in general. The Life of Ciaran of Cluain states, c. 47, that the Order of Brigid was (one) of the eight Orders that were in Erin.” February was called in Irish, “the month of Brigid’s festival;” and Irish writers style her the Mary of Erin, and, on account of her many virtues, assign to her, after the Mother of God, the second place amongst the virgin Saints in heaven. St. Aengus in the Feilire, thus marked her feast:-
“The Calends of February are magnified,
By a galaxy of martyrs of great valour;
Brigid the spotless, of loudest fame,
Chaste head of the nuns of Erin.”
The old Brehon laws prescribe special devotion to St. Brigid, and tribute to her Convent as duties of the Kings of Leinster. Through respect for the Saint, the town and suburbs of Kildare possessed the privilege of Sanctuary:—“Maxima haec civitas et Metropolitana est; in cujus suburbanis, quae sancta certo limite designavit Brigida, nullus carnalis adversarius nec concensus timetur hostium.” (Trias Thaum. 534.) St. Tighernach, Abbot of Clones, and Bishop of Cloghar in succession to St. Maccarten, one of the most illustrious of the Saints of Erin, was baptized at Kildare by St. Conlaeth, St. Brigid acting as Sponsor. A gloss in the Leabhar Breac on the entry in the Feilire of Aengus at the 4th of April, the feast-day of this Saint, quaintly records this event as follows:—“Coirpre, son of Fergus of Leinster, i.e. of Leix, was Tighernach’s father. Or he is of Ui-Bairrchi. Now Coirpre bore him under cover to Kildare. He came into the guest-house. Brigid beheld a watch of angels over the head of the house, and she asked who was there. “One young man is there,” quoth the servant. “Look thou still,” quoth Brigid. Then he looked. “There is, in sooth,” quoth he, “a little babe in the young man’s bosom.” “Good is the babe,” quoth Brigid. Brigid comes into the guest-house, and baptizes the child, and Brigid holds him at his baptism."
"Beside the town of Kildare there is a large pond or lough named Loughminane, the formation of which is thus accounted for in a Gloss on the Feilire AEnguis in the Leabhar Breac:-
'Eighteen Bishops came to Brigid from Hui-Brinin Chualand and from Telach-nam-espoc to Loch Lemnachta, beside Kildare on the north. So Brigid asked her cook, to wit, of Blathnait, whether she had food, et dixit illa non. And Brigid had shame, so the angel said that the cows should be milked iterum. And Brigid milked them, and they filled the tubs, and they would have filled all the vessels of Leinster; and the milk came over the vessels and made a lough thereof. Inde Loch Lemnachta dicitur.'"