My thanks to Heather Upfield for the following article, in which she shares her understanding of St. Bride of Scotland, and for her patience and sense of humour in dealing with my comments along the way. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I have. (And my apologies for being unable to tame the formatting madness that is Blogger.)
Despite official derivation showing otherwise, ‘The Hebrides’ are popularly known as ‘The Brides’ or ‘Bride’s Isles’. According to local legend, she arrived on the shores of South Uist with an Oystercatcher on each wrist. The Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) is a black and white shoreline bird, with a very distinctive call. In the Ghaidlíg (the Scots form of Gaelic), the bird is known as Gille-Bhrìde, which means ‘Servant of Bride’. In the mythology, it is said that St Bride of the Isles was being pursued along the beach by villains, when she could go no further and fell down on the sand. As she was preparing to meet her Maker, Oystercatchers on the shore noticed her plight and gently covered her with seaweed, to hide her from her pursuers. After the men had left, St Bride blessed the Oystercatcher for ever more, above all other birds. Its plaintive call is said to be ‘Bhride Bhride Bhride’. Thus it is that along with the cow and sheep, the most potent symbol of St Bride of the Isles is the Oystercatcher.
Is this the same St Bride as St Brigid? We will never know the origins of St Bride of the Isles, whether she has a much older lineage, or whether the stories of St Brigid were reinterpreted for the people of the Islands. Kathy Jones and Brian Wright in their respective books on the Goddess, place St Bride/St Brigid as antecedents of the Ancient British Goddess Brighid (also known as Brigit-Ana, or Britannia). It is likely that St Bride of the Isles is also part of this continuum. Sir James Frazer, an anthropologist, in his book on Comparative Religion entitled The Golden Bough (1890), described St Bride of the Isles as ‘The Goddess in a threadbare Christian Cloak’.
Certainly, the mythology and legend surrounding St Bride of the Isles leads one to imagine an older Goddess related history. This is apparent in the story of the battle between St Bride and the Cailleach, which has obvious parallels with the Underworld story of Persephone and Demeter.
St Bride of the Isles on the shore, with a lamb., Window and detail, in Holy Trinity Scottish Episcopal Church, Stirling.
©Heather Upfield, www.brighid.org.uk/scotland_footprints.html, 16 April 2017.