Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Journey with Brigit, Goddess of Poetry: An Online Course with Mael Brigde

It's open!
After a change of hosts, registration for my course, Journey with Brigit, Goddess of Poetry, is open at last! This is an intensive course that both nourishes the writing (and reading) of poetry and connects the participant to the poet in Ireland, and poetry in our lives.
The classes come out one a day, and you are welcome to move as quickly or slowly as you like through each lesson.
I look forward to connecting with some of you in this forum.
Blessings on your pen!
Mael Brigde

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: Picture Book - "The Story of Saint Brigid" by Clarke and Croatto

The Story of Saint Brigid by Caitriona Clarke, illustrated by Barbara Croatto, Veritas (2015), 23 pp..

This small, slender, and well produced picture book in one way resembles adult books about Saint Brigit more than most picture books: rather than telling a single, unfolding tale, it picks a number of items of information about the saint and briefly recounts them, opposite illustrations that highlight one of the items mentioned on each page. My limited experience with reading books to children suggests that this sort of thing is often of less interest than a gripping story line. Nevertheless there are times when this kind of thing is just the ticket, or is at least a pleasant way to learn a lesson—in this case, who is Saint Brigit? In this particular instance the book is aimed at Irish school children who will have heard often about her, perhaps even go to a school named for her, and so will be more inclined to be curious about the answer to that question than a child who hasn’t grown up knowing her name. Published by Veritas Publications, it comes from an unapologetically Catholic perspective.

I like the easy, conversational tone of the book, beginning with the first page, where Clarke addresses the child reading the book (or more likely having it read to them). “Have you ever heard of Saint Brigid? ... Maybe you have made a St Brigid’s Cross out of reeds? Maybe even your school is named after her!” This engages the child him- or herself, letting them know that this story is about their lives, too.

I was startled on the next page of text to learn of Saint Brigit’s mother that, “it is thought she was captured by pirates in Portugal and brought here as a slave—just like St Patrick …” I have never heard this before. I am more familiar with the suggestion that Broicseach was the daughter of Dalbrónach of the Dál Conchobair in County Meath. I am delighted to learn of another folk geneaology and would love to know where the idea started and how common the belief is in Ireland. In the fifteen hundred years since Saint Brigit’s birth there has been ample time for shifts in and additions to her stories, departures from the texts that I largely rely on for things like this.

I was also surprised to read that Brigit’s father, Dubhthach, had chosen to name his daughter after “the goddess of fire, who was thought to be gifted in poetry, healing, and craftsmanship.” Of course, there is no basis for this in any of the texts, but it is a neat way of connecting the two in the mind of the reader without supposing that they are the same person. This of course would get some backs up, but as I am of the opinion myself that they are not the same person, though they have grown together in our modern understanding, it doesn’t bother me at all, and I appreciate the nod to the goddess.

From this point on there are no surprises. We are told the familiar outline of Saint Brigit’s life, pared down drastically for the brevity of a picture book, and learn of the emphasis in her tales of generosity, compassion, and holiness. Her founding of a double monastery which was in time to produce great works like the (now lost) Book of Kildare is an addition which I favour, taking her out of the sweet holy girl category and placing her into the powerful efficient woman category—a good model for young people to be aware of.

We are told of the use of Saint Brigit’s Crosses in Irish homes for protection of people and animals against illness and their homes from fire, and of her holy wells in healing. There are some humorous elements, such as the expression of gobsmacked horror on the king’s face when Brigit’s cloak is spreading out over his land. The book concludes, “In her, Ireland can proudly lay claim to a wise and charitable woman who devoted her long life to the service of others.”

I have mixed feelings about the artwork that accompanies the text. Mostly, I like it. It is has a light touch which works well with the sparse, friendly writing. There are clean lines against colourful washes and a good sense of design, and there is, as mentioned above, a touch of humour in some of the images that appeals. What I don’t like, and this is purely a matter of taste, is how Croatta draws many of the human faces, which feel a bit awkward to me.

On balance, I like this book.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Songs of the Oystercatcher by Heather Upfield

I have added a new page (the first "page") to my Brigit poetry blog, Stone on the Belly: a series of poems written by Heather Upfield, honouring Brihde through the seasons.
To see and download Songs of the Oystercatcher, please click here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Kilbride Burn" by Heather Upfield

Heather Upfield kindly gave me permission to pass on to you her photo:

She says,

"I popped up to West Kilbride today and took a walk through Glenbryde. This is the Kilbride Burn which joins the Atlantic Ocean about a mile further downstream. St Bride arrived on these shores (probably where Kilbride Burn meets the sea) around 500AD and established chapels along the coast — at North Ayrshire."

Friday, April 20, 2018

“Saint Bridget and the King's Wolf” by Abbie Farwell Brown (1900)

“Saint Bridget and the King's Wolf”
by Abbie Farwell Brown

EVERY one has heard of Bridget, the little girl saint of Ireland. Her name is almost as well known as that of Saint Patrick, who drove all the snakes from the Island. Saint Bridget had long golden hair; and she was very beautiful. Many wonderful things happened to her that are written in famous books. But I suspect that you never heard what she did about the King's Wolf. It is a queer story.

This is how it happened. The King of Ireland had a tame wolf which some hunters had caught for him when it was a wee baby. And this wolf ran around as it pleased in the King's park near the palace, and had a very good time. But one morning he got over the high wall which surrounded the park, and strayed a long distance from home, which was a foolish thing to do. For in those days wild wolves were hated and feared by the people, whose cattle they often stole; and if a man could kill a wicked wolf he thought himself a very smart fellow indeed. Moreover, the King himself had offered a prize to any man who should bring him a dead wolf. For he wanted his kingdom to be a peaceful, happy one, where the children could play in the woods all day without fear of big eyes or big teeth.

Of course you can guess what happened to the King's wolf? A big, silly country fellow was going along with his bow and arrows, when he saw a great brown beast leap over a hedge and dash into the meadow beyond. It was only the King's wolf running away from home and feeling very frisky because it was the first time that he had done such a thing. But the country fellow did not know all that.

"Aha!" he said to himself. "I'll soon have you, my fine wolf, and the King will give me a gold piece that will buy me a hat and a new suit of clothes for the holidays." And without stopping to think about it or to look closely at the wolf, who had the King's mark upon his ear, the fellow shot his arrow straight as a string. The King's wolf gave one great leap into the air and then fell dead on the grass, poor fellow.

The countryman was much pleased. He dragged his prize straight up to the King's palace and thumped on the gate.

"Open!" he cried. "Open to the valiant hunter who has shot a wolf for the King. Open, that I may go in to receive the reward."

So, very respectfully, they bade him enter; and the Lord Chamberlain escorted him before the King himself, who sat on a great red velvet throne in the Hall. In came the fellow, dragging after him by the tail the limp body of the King's wolf.

"What have we here?" growled the King, as the Lord Chamberlain made a low bow and pointed with his staff to the stranger. The King had a bad temper and did not like to receive callers in the morning. But the silly countryman was too vain of his great deed to notice the King's disagreeable frown.

"You have here a wolf, Sire," he said proudly. "I have shot for you a wolf, and I come to claim the promised reward."

But at this unlucky moment the King started up with an angry cry. He had noticed his mark on the wolf's right ear.

"Ho! Seize the villain!" he shouted to his soldiers. "He has slain my tame wolf; he has shot my pet! Away with him to prison; and to-morrow he dies."

It was useless for the poor man to scream and cry and try to explain that it was all a mistake. The King was furious. His wolf was killed, and the murderer must die.

In those days this was the way kings punished men who displeased them in any way. There were no delays; things happened very quickly. So they dragged the poor fellow off to a dark, damp dungeon and left him there howling and tearing his hair, wishing that wolves had never been saved from the flood by Noah and his Ark.

Now not far from this place little Saint Bridget lived. When she chose the beautiful spot for her home there were no houses near, only a great oak-tree, under which she built her little hut. It had but one room and the roof was covered with grass and straw. It seemed almost like a doll's playhouse, it was so small; and Bridget herself was like a big, golden-haired wax doll,—the prettiest doll you ever saw.

She was so beautiful and so good that people wanted to live near her, where they could see her sweet face often and hear her voice. When they found where she had built her cell, men came flocking from all the country round about with their wives and children and their household goods, their cows and pigs and chickens; and camping on the green grass under the great oak-tree they said, "We will live here, too, where Saint Bridget is."

So house after house was built, and a village grew up about her little cell; and for a name it had Kildare, which in Irish means "Cell of the Oak." Soon Kildare became so fashionable that even the King must have a palace and a park there. And it was in this park that the King's wolf had been killed.

Now Bridget knew the man who had shot the wolf, and when she heard into what terrible trouble he had fallen she was very sorry, for she was a kind-hearted little girl. She knew he was a silly fellow to shoot the tame wolf; but still it was all a mistake, and she thought he ought not to be punished so severely. She wished that she could do some- [6] thing to help him, to save him if possible. But this seemed difficult, for she knew what a bad temper the King had; and she also knew how proud he had been of that wolf. who was the only tame one in all the land.

Bridget called for her coachman with her chariot and pair of white horses, and started for the King's palace, wondering what she should do to satisfy the King and make him release the man who had meant to do no harm,

But lo and behold! as the horses galloped along over the Irish bogs of peat, Saint Bridget saw a great white shape racing towards her. At first she thought it was a dog. But no: no dog was as large as that. She soon saw that it was a wolf, with big eyes and with a red tongue lolling out of his mouth. At last he overtook the frightened horses, and with a flying leap came plump into the chariot where Bridget sat, and crouched at her feet, quietly as a dog would. He was no tame wolf, but a wild one, who had never before felt a human being's hand upon him. Yet he let Bridget pat and stroke him, and say nice things into his great ear. And he kept perfectly still by her side until the chariot rumbled up to the gate of the palace.

Then Bridget held out her hand and called to him; and the great white beast followed her quietly through the gate and up the stair and down the long hall until they stood before the red-velvet throne, where the King sat looking stern and sulky.

They must have been a strange-looking pair, the little maiden in her green gown with her golden hair falling like a shower down to her knees; and the huge white wolf standing up almost as tall as she, his yellow eyes glaring fiercely about, and his red tongue panting. Bridget laid her hand gently on the beast's head which was close to her shoulder, and bowed to the King. The King only sat and stared, he was so surprised at the sight; but Bridget took that as a permission to speak.

"You have lost your tame wolf, O King," she said. "But I have brought you a better. There is no other tame wolf in all the land, now yours is dead. But look at this one! There is no white wolf to be found anywhere, and he is both tame and white. I have tamed him, my King. I, a little maiden, have tamed him so that he is gentle as you see. Look, I can pull his big ears and he will not snarl. Look, I can put my little hand into his great red mouth, and he will not bite. Sire, I give him to you. Spare me then the life of the poor, silly man who unwittingly killed your beast. Give his stupid life to me in exchange for this dear, amiable wolf," and she smiled pleadingly.

The King sat staring first at the great white beast, wonderfully pleased with the look of him, then at the beautiful maiden whose blue eyes looked so wistfully at him. And he was wonderfully pleased with the look of them, too. Then he bade her tell him the whole story, how she had come by the creature, and when, and where. Now when she had finished he first whistled in surprise, then he laughed. That was a good sign,—he was wonderfully pleased with Saint Bridget's story, also. It was so strange a thing for the King to laugh in the morning that the Chamberlain nearly fainted from surprise; and Bridget felt sure that she had won her prayer. Never had the King been seen in such a good humor. For he was a vain man, and it pleased him mightily to think of owning all for himself this huge beast, whose like was not in all the land, and whose story was so marvelous.

And when Bridget looked at him so beseechingly, he could not refuse those sweet blue eyes the request which they made, for fear of seeing them fill with tears. So, as Bridget begged, he pardoned the countryman, and gave his life to Bridget, ordering his soldiers to set him free from prison. Then when she had thanked the King very sweetly, she bade the wolf lie down beside the red velvet throne, and thenceforth be faithful and kind to his new master. And with one last pat upon his shaggy head, she left the wolf and hurried out to take away the silly countryman in her chariot, before the King should have time to change his mind.

The man was very happy and grateful. But she gave him a stern lecture on the way home, advising him not to be so hasty and so wasty next time.

"Sirrah Stupid," she said as she set him down by his cottage gate, "better not kill at all than take the lives of poor tame creatures.  I have saved your life this once, but next time you will have to suffer. Remember, it is better that two wicked wolves escape than that one kind beast be killed. We cannot afford to lose our friendly beasts, Master Stupid. We can better afford to lose a blundering fellow like you." And she drove away to her cell under the oak, leaving the silly man to think over what she had said, and to feel much ashamed.

But the King's new wolf lived happily ever after in the palace park; and Bridget came often to see him, so that he had no time to grow homesick or lonesome.

Source: The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts by Abbie Farwell Brown (1900).  Chapter One.

ImageIllustrated by Fanny Y. Cory

Found on The Baldwin Project site. This work is in the public domain.