St. Brigid
     Saint Brigid, 'the Mary of the Gael', as she has been known to generations of Irish people, commands affection and respect. She is remembered for her hospitality and hard work, as a woman of God and a woman of the people. A powerful personality, who appealed to all, from those on high to the humble beggar. This is her story.
Brigid's life begins in Faughart, a few miles from Dundalk, county Louth, in the year 453. Her father is a chieftain named Dubthach, and her mother is Brocessa, a Christian bondswoman. Shortly after Brigid's birth, Dubthach's wife persuades him to send Brocessa away, to Murroe in east Limerick. Brigid is put to fosterage.

When she comes of an age to be useful, Brigind returns to her father's house, taking her mother's place in the usual round of bondswoman's duties - minding the livestock, serving at meals, etc. It is already apparent that Brigid has a calling as she constantly reaches out to the poor. She keeps a store of clothes and food for them, and requisitions her father's property when there is nothing else available!

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Dubthach's wife is less than tolerant of this behaviour, and she prevails on her husband to offload Brigid elsewhere. He takes his daughter in a chariot to the king of Leinster to see if he can strike a deal. Brigid is left outside in the chariot, and while there, a leper approaches her, seeking alms. Without hesitation, Brigid hands over her father's sword, an item of great value. In the warlike province of Leinster, this says more than words can capture about Brigid's system of values.
Needless to say, these values do not correspond with her father's, and he is furious when he discovers her action. Fortunately for Brigid, the king of Leinster is present, and he checks Dubthach's rage, saying: "Leave her alone, for her merit before God is greater than ours." Thus Brigid returns home, and through this incident, is delivered from bondage.
In time, Dubthach tries to arrange a marriage for his daughter, but she isn't interested. She chooses a life of virginity, a life of service to God and to the poor. Brigid starts with seven, and together, they approach St Maccaille for guidance.

At first, Maccaille is doubtful of the wisdom of Brigid's decision, thinking it a case of misdirected zeal. However, the more time he spends with Brigid and her postulants, the more he comes to see that the hand of God is guiding them.

And so Maccaille receives their vows, and Brigid establishes a novitiate under his direction. In due course, the women are brought to the bishop of Ardagh, St Mel, who receives their final vows and places the white veils on their heads.
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On Mel's request, Brigid founds a convent at Ardagh, the first convent of strict religious observance to be established on Irish soil. It soon becomes a centre of great activity, as many women of noble birth leave their homes and flock to the shelter of the convent. Thousands come to receive instruction in the Christian faith.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Brigid sees potential in what she has achieved in Ardagh, and leaves to see if this success can be repeated elsewhere. Accompanied by a group of sisters and her spiritual guide, Natfraoich, she sets out on a journey around the country. Everywhere she goes in Munster and Connaght, postulants come to her. This is a movement that has been waiting to happen.


Brigid's approach to the establishment of new foundations is of the hands-on variety. She supervises all the work connected with the building of the wattle huts for the new sisters, and as soon as she sees the new convent staffed, she starts off to repeat the work elsewhere.

Brigid's most famous foundation is at Kildare, where she receives a generous grant of land from the king of Leinster. Kildare flourishes into a centre of pilgrimage for bishops, priests and chieftains. Kings vie with one another in showering rich gifts and royal favours upon the cloisters presided over by Brigid. The poor and the infirm come in their multitudes.


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     Brigid's genius for leadership and organisation comes into its own. A woman of wisdom and commonsense, she makes provision for the sick, tending to them with her knowledge of contemporary medicine. She established schools, she sets sisters to work making vestments, and she organises the Episcopal government of her city. More than anything else, however, Brigid is renowned for her hospitality.

After some years in charge at Kildare, Brigid is the most prominent religious leader in the Liffey plain. Many and notable are the names who come to her for help. St Fiach, bishop of Sletty, seeks her guidance in the founding of his monastery in Laoghis, as does St Finnian for his monastery at Clonard.


It is a long and productive life in the service of others. Brigid dies shortly after here 70th birthday. Her spirit lives on in the hospitality afforded by the nuns at Kildare, and she is remembered in posterity as a patron of Irish women and motherhood, someone to call on for help in domestic matters.

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