Lá Fhéile Bríde, Brighid’s Day

Lá Fhéile Bríde, Brighid’s Day. There are many folk traditions associated with Brighid’s Eve in Ireland which welcome her return, one such is the Brát Bhrid, a piece of cloth, put outside the home on 31st January, at sunset. 

The Brát Bhrid was placed on a nearby bush, often a whitethorn,  on a window sill or tied to the handle of the front door.

It was believed that Brighid would touch the brát and bestow it with healing which remained in the cloth, becoming more potent over time. 

Hands on the door of Saint Brigid’s Parish Church, Kildare.
The brátis left over night and at sunrise the dew damp cloth was brought indoors and kept.  It was laid on people to heal various ailments, to cure infertility in women and ease childbirth. Wearing the Brát Bhrid also saved young children from abduction by the Good People. 

The cloth was often of a specific colour; on the islands off Donegal,  in Mayo and on Inishmurray, Sligo it was red, in Tipperary, black & in other areas white.  The Brát usually consisted of a ribbon, a piece of linen or a garment.
According to author Fr Seán Ó Duinn Brighid is the only saint to return annually and her appearance on the eve of the fire festival, Imbolc, is one indication that her roots go back to the ancient goddess who is associated with healing, poetry and smith craft.
It is not only Brighid who returns tonight. 
The Good People will also emerge from the hills as the gates to the Otherworld open.  A remnant of this belief was recorded in Donegal when a sheaf of corn and an oat cake were left outside on Brighid’s Eve to thank them for the harvest and to ensure good luck. 

On the old date for Imbolc, 4th February this year, sunlight enters several Neolithic mounds  including the Mound of the Hostages at Tara above.
Celebrations at Imbolc, the first day of Spring and Lá Fhéile Bríde, traditionally take place around the home and unlike the other annual fire festivals there are no references to bonfires being lit on hill tops.  Perhaps it was too cold to venture forth? 
Or perhaps the sacred fire was the goddess Brighid herself who dwelt in the Otherworld and would return annually to walk the land bestowing protection, fertility and health on people and animals.

In Christian iconography Brigid is often depicted with fire.  Here she stands with her soulmate, the young woman St. Darlughdacha.
Not too far from my home is Cruachán Bríg Eile, Croghan Hill in Co. Offaly. Known as the most isolated hill in Ireland, Croghan stands like an island in the surrounding bog and according to John Feehan it can be seen from 12 counties. 

The breast like Croghan Hill with its’ Neolithic passage grave on the summit  provides a panoramic view.

Excavations in the area have revealed the presence of iron ore, stone hearths,  ritual lake deposits & the bog body of  Old Croghan Man.
The Hill itself is an extinct volcano and folklore explains that its’ fire can be reached by entering the burial mound.

Locally it is believed that St. Brighid was born near Croghan and that Brigit Begoibne, Brigid the Smith, has her workshop beneath the hill. It is here, using skill, strength and fire that she works metal to create her beautiful cauldrons.

The Holy Well on Croghan is now dedicated to St. Patrick but the fiery goddess Brighid  is still remembered with offerings of a Brigid’s Eye, red tinsel and yellow flowers.

As the sun sets this evening Brighid will emerge, flame bright, from the mound on Croghan Hill  to travel the dark landscape blessing her people.
This is the traditional Manx ‘Invocation to Bridget’ by Emma Christian.
Translation: “Bridget, Bridget, come to my house,  come to my house tonight. Open the door to Bridget,  and let Bridget come in. Bridget, Bridget, come to my house,  come to my house tonight.”

Source: Jane Brideson