Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sacred England

From the publisher's website:

There are many good guidebooks to England and its various regions and aspects, and this one is not intended to rival or replace any of the others. Its aim is to provide a quietly informative companion to those travellers seeking the ancient spirit of the land.

Recognised as the world authority on ancient science and religion and the symbolism of ancient landscapes, John Michell takes us on an unforgettable journey to ruined abbeys and cathedrals, pagan sites and megalithic temples, shrines of saints and visionaries, holy wells, island sanctuaries, and to a host of other places where peace and sanctity are almost tangible. Some of them are famous, others quiet and secluded, but all are centres of spiritual energy and renewal.

A middle-small book, suitable for travelling, The Traveller's Guide to Sacred England, by John Michell, contains many wonders. Among them:

St. Bride, Fleet Street

This is the most fascinating of the London churches because its site has been sanctified since pagan times. By the northwest corner of the present church and within the walls of an earlier building was the holy well of St. Bride or Bridget, a fifth-century Irish saint, to which pilgrimages were made on her feast day. The Wren church with its elaborate "wedding cake" steeple was bombed in the war and rebuilt in the 1950s. Escavations of the early buildings can be seen in the crypt, which is now a museum. Being in Fleet Street, famous for its newspaper offices, St. Bride has been adopted as the journalists' church. The east wall, which is skillfully painted to appear curved, is actually flat. On the south wall is a terra-cotta head of Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents to be born in North America.
Open daily, 9 to 5, Sunday 9:30 to 6:30.

(Note the tantalizing link between the goddess Brigit's oversight of poetry and culture and St. Bride's being the journalists' church.)

Glastonbury and Her Saints
pg. 136

St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, by tradition responsible for converting the Irish to Christianity, ended his days as Abbot of Glastonbury. When he died at the age of 111, his holy relics became Glastonbury's greatest asset. They attracted many pilgrims from Ireland, including St. Bridget, who settled not far from the abbey at Beckery...

The St. Michael Pilgrimage Path
pg. 142

The establishment of a Christian church on the Tor is attributed in the annals of Glastonbury to the founders of the abbey and to St. Patrick. Its dedication is to St. Michael - more properly the Archangel Michael - who is depicted in a carving on the tower weighing the soulds of the dead. Beside it, representing the female principle, is a carving of St. Bridget milking her cow.

As the leader of the heavenly hosts, the bearer of light, the slayer of the dragon, the revealer of mysteries, and the guide to the other world, Michael is the Christian successor to pagan deities with similar functions, such as Hermes, messenger of the gods, and the Celtic light giver, Lugh...

Friday, May 22, 2009

GalaXies: Festival of First Light

I found this paper on the Festival of First Light, devoted in great part to Brigit, on the website of the New Zealand community, GalaXies.

GalaXies is a Christianish spiritual community for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, and our mates!

Our spiritual core is what we have found to be of value, affirming, truthful and fun. In enjoying ourselves, seeking, interpreting God freshly, we embrace the diversity of other spiritual paths.

Our Sunday evening services are a relaxed journey, creative, rewarding, renewing, casual, beyond ourselves. We are all learning.
Festival of First Light

The moment of First Light lies exactly midway between winter solstice and spring equinox. It is a time of stirrings, when the increasing light is felt but not quite believed in. The weather is full
of changes, from brilliant sunbursts to sharp, sudden showers, which bring an abrupt chill to the atmosphere. The unwary are caught without coats. At one moment the promise of spring hovers in the air; the next, winter leaps out and catches us by the throat. It is a changeable time, yet a time of promise.

It is a quiescent time in the bush, as if the new light has not yet penetrated there. On the bush floor, green-hooded orchids are flowering and mushrooms pop out of the damp into the gentle new warmth, but trees are still gathering their buds. Kumarahou, tawari, puawananga (clematis), karaka and kowhai are preparing to flower, but have not yet burst forth. This season precedes the drama of spring; it is a time of gathering, of preparation.

The quiet of the bush stands in contrast to the new energy of the open garden, where exotic plants respond to the warming of the earth. Bulbs push their spears through sun fingered soil to flaunt delicate colours and sweet perfumes. Narcissi and daffodils abound, while primroses sit delicately upon their nests of leaves. Daphne lets loose the last of its pink fragrance.

Snowdrops cluster in shady corners; polyanthus flashes with bright colour, and pink clouds of flowering cherry waft among bare branches, contrasting with the frothy, white clusters of plum blossom.

This is the season that aligns with the northern hemisphere Chinese New Year.

For Maori, First Light comes in the second lunar month of the year, Pakawera (July/August), described as ruarua huangohingohi (`few and withered'), when Ka haere memenge nga rau o nga mea katoa i te huka (`the leaves of all things become shrivelled by frost'). The Tuhoe called it Hongonui, when Kua tino matao te tangata, me te tahutahu ahi, ka painaina (`people are now extremely cold and kindle fire to warm themselves').

Kereru (wood pigeons) run short of berries at this time. They are forced to turn to unpalatable kowhai leaves and consequently lose condition, the leaves giving their flesh an unpleasant smell that makes them bitter to eat and can cause a headache.' Traditionally, the bird and rat-gathering seasons were now ending and people came home from the forest.

However, the young eels began to swim upstream and could now be caught, and at sea the moki were said to be growing fat. The inanga (whitebait) went up the rivers `like a company of soldiers in great numbers, keeping a column two or three feet wide', and were caught in large numbers in oval hoop-nets known as haokoeaea. They were caught in July, August and early September and were always eaten fresh. The kotukutuku tree is bare, being one of very few native trees that lose their leaves. This event figures in a proverb used to chide those who absented themselves at this time, for if conditions were suitable, the ground needed to be prepared for the planting season: I whea koe i te ngahorotanga o te rau o te kotukutuku? (where were you when the fuchsia leaves fell?) Workers were kept busy heaping up the earth into mounds that would receive the spring kumaraseed shoots. Matariki, the Pleiades constellation, watched over them, and this is referred to in the proverb Matariki nhunga nui (`the Pleiades with many mounds heaped up').

Whakaahu (Castor of Castor and Pollux), a star associated with summer, rises now. Kaiwaka, which gave its name to the third lunar month of August/September, may also be coming into view.

Tautoru the bird-hunter
The constellation of Orion shines high in the sky, with Tautoru (Orion's Belt) clearly visible. There is a story about Tautoru. He was famous as a skilled bird-hunter, who used berries and sweet-smelling flowers to bait his snares. His specially trained dogs ran with him to catch the ground dwelling birds kakapo, weka and kiwi. Too wise to rely solely on his skill, Tautoru invoked the support of Tane, god of the forest, through karakia and rituals. Even though he was only a mortal, Tautoru was so skilful and strong that Rauroha, a goddess of the air, fell in love with him. Every night she descended from the sky to stay with him until dawn, but always she hid her face. Tautoru longed to see it, even though he knew this was forbidden. One night his longing to see Rauroha's beauty became so great that he broke the tapu and gazed upon her as the dawn light flooded over her beautiful features. Rauroha fled instantly, leaving Tautoru grief-stricken at losing her. He was so distraught as he went about his work of snare-setting that he slipped from a tall tree and fell to his death.

Rauroha saw birds wheeling about the tree top, crying out, and descended to find Tautoru lying on the ground. She sent a message for his kin to come and get his body, which they did; but as they were carrying the stretcher home they noticed that it had become very light. When they looked, they found to their amazement that his body had disappeared. The tohunga later explained to them that because of Tautoru's observances to Tane, Tane the first bird-snarer must have taken him up into the heavens. From that time he has remained there as the star cluster that bears his name and forms the shape of a bird snare. Jauntily rising out of the snare is the star Puanga (whose appearance announced winter solstice) which was seen as the pewa, the flower decoy that attracts birds. And if you look closely, you will also see the flocks of tiny kereru flying to be caught.

Pagan Europe
Celtic society
In the old Celtic calendar the name for First Light was Imbolc, or Imbolg, derived from the older word Oimelc or Oi-melg, the Celtic word for ewe's milk. After the cold of winter the flowing of milk was significant, not only to nourish new lambs, but also for old people and the very young. For them the availability of milk could mean the difference between life and death, especially as the weather was still cold. At Imbolc milk was poured on to the earth as an offering.

This was regarded as the beginning of spring, marked by the
lighting of fires and rituals to bless the coming crops. It was time to celebrate the return of the Goddess in her maiden aspect, released from the tower where she had been held by the Cailleach (pronounced the same as the Indian goddess Kali), or crone aspect of the Goddess.

This was a time of women's rituals, celebrating the Goddess and the mystery of her return.

Ancient Greece

Rituals of renewal also took place in ancient Greece at this time: the lesser Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated at Agrae near Ilissus, in honour of the return of the maiden Persephone from the underworld and her reunion with her mother Demeter. The ritual was an important prerequisite to the greater Mysteries that were celebrated at autumn equinox.

Fire symbolism
The lighting of candles or torches is a feature of many of the First Light rituals. In the lesser Mysteries it was a torchlight procession that took place at night; for the Romans it was the burning of candles in a purification ritual dedicated to Juno Februa, mother of Mars. In ancient Britain, at the neolithic site of Avebury, the Feast of Lights was celebrated at this season. People carried torches at night to help the Goddess return from the underworld and be born again. In the Celtic women's festivals of Imbolc, candles or torches were lit at midnight. Later the use of fire would survive in the Christian tradition of burning the Christmas decorations at First Light, forty days after Christmas.

In the old Celtic calendar, the festival of Imbolc belonged to Brigid (also called Bride), goddess of the Celtic empire of Brigantia, which once covered parts of Spain, France and Britain. One of her earliest shrines was at Brigeto on the Balkan Peninsula. Daughter of the Celtic god the Dagda, she had two sisters also called Brigid - one associated with healing and one with smith-craft.

Together they were known as `the three mothers' or `the three blessed ladies of Britain' and were associated with the moon in its three phases, waxing, full and waning: Maiden, Mother and Crone.

It was Brigid in her maiden aspect who became associated with First Light. She represented the power of the new moon, spring and the flowing sea. In Pagan times her statue was washed annually in the sea or a lake, signifying renewal, and she was greeted with candles and water. The cow was associated with Brigid because of its nourishing milk, and the cauldron of plenty was one of her symbols. Her flower was the sun-yellow dandelion, whose white juice also suggested milk and was thought to nourish young lambs.

Brigid was strictly a women's festival. In the Scottish Highlands the women would bar the door of the feasting house to the men, who had to plead humbly to be allowed to honour Bride.

Fertility rites were part of the Celtic celebrations of Brigid or Bride, where the women dressed a sheaf of corn in female clothing. It was then placed in a basket with a phallic like club and called `the bride's bed'. The basket was put on to a bed of hay or corn, and candles lit all around it so that the `bride' could be invited to come to it. Just before going to bed the women would cry out three times, `Bride is come. Bride is welcome.' In the morning they would examine the ashes of the fire for an impression of Bride's club, which would be greeted as an omen of a good crop and a fertile year to come. The practice is suggestive of even more ancient rites, where the coupling of a man and woman was thought to encourage crop fertility.

Sometimes the dressed straw doll or `brideog' was taken from house to house in procession, or a chosen girl dressed in white would be taken around instead. Cakes, butter and other food would be laid out for this impersonation of Brigid.

Another custom that lives on in the British Isles is the making of Brigid-crosses from straw or corn, their shape being either the goddess lozenge symbol or the four-armed swastika known as the fire-wheel. As a fire goddess, her cross was seen as protection against fire or lightning. In Ireland her festival was regarded as the first day of spring, and the time to prepare for the sowing of crops. In some places farmers would remove their trousers and sit on the bare ground to test whether it was warm enough to plough.

In the Scottish Highlands Feill Bhride (Gaelic for St Bride's Day) was celebrated at the beginning of February. It was a sign that winter was turning and spring was on its way. The raven, an important harbinger of the end of winter, was watched for weather prospects and referred to in the old Celtic saying:

On the Feast Day of beautiful Bride
The flocks are counted on the moor
The raven goes to prepare its nest.
It was also said: Fitheach moch, feannag
anmoch (`the raven [in voice] early, the hooded
crow late'), the raven's early appearance
signifying fine weather to come. Another sign
of Feill Bhride was the opening of `the little
notched flower of Bride', the golden-yellow

In the Scottish Highlands it was said that a
snake, traditionally a symbol of regeneration, emerged from the hills on the day of Bride. People made snake effigies on this day in honour of emerging life.

Christian Europe: Candlemas
Saint Brigid
In early Christian Ireland there was a saint who took her name from the goddess and inherited Brigid's essential characteristics. Her story illustrates the vitality of the Pagan tradition in Ireland and its resistance to Christian colonisation. The myths that grew up around Saint Brigid told of her birth at sunrise, neither in nor outside a house.

She was said to have been fed by the milk of a white, red-eared cow, recalling both the milk of Imbolc and the significance of the colour red, which for the Irish was charged with supernatural powers. The cow was, of course, the companion animal of her Pagan predecessor. Brigid, they said, hung her wet cloak on the rays of the sun, and wherever she stayed, that house would appear to be ablaze with fire. With nineteen of her nuns she was said to guard a sacred fire that never went out, a fire that was enclosed by a hedge within which no man was permitted to enter. The number nineteen reflects the nineteen-year cycle of the Celtic Great Year, nineteen being the number of years it took for the new moon to coincide with winter solstice once more.

Despite the efforts of Christianity to overcome the goddess tradition, Irish writers persisted in referring to Saint Brigid as `Queen of Heaven', an echo of her older forms as Juno Regina and Tanit the Heavenly Goddess.

Brigid was associated with both fire and the underground, and many sacred wells - 'Bride-wells' or `St Bride's wells' - were dedicated to her, and visited at festival time for purification.

The Irish shamrock with its three leaves was said to stand for her three aspects. The Church overrode this by claiming the four-leafed clover was superior, and a sign of good luck. To this day, Irish people visit sacred wells and leave signs there, from handkerchiefs and glasses to asthma inhalers and tampons, in the hope of receiving healing.

Brigid of Kildare
Virgin, abbess, inspirer
Born 451
Died 525
Venerated in
Eastern Orthodoxy

Later, the Church transformed the festival of Brigid into the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or Candlemas, marking the time when Mary completed her ritual cleansing after the birth of Jesus and brought him to Jerusalem for blessing. Candlemas, with its burning of
candles at midnight, retained much of the Pagan symbolism of fire and cleansing. In some parts of England candles were blessed in church and then carried in processions. Every window in the church and at home would be lit up by a candle. Snowdrops, which were known as Candlemas bells or Mary's tapers because of their purity, were dedicated to the Virgin on this day." In the north of England Candlemas was called `The Wives' Feast Day', acknowledging its earlier origins as a women's fertility festival. Later it became the traditional time for the more secular custom of spring-cleaning.

Weather predictions
In Britain the weather at First Light, or Candlemas, was thought to be a significant portent of the season to come, and rhymes abound to this effect. Many of them carry the theme that a fine, clear day at Candlemas is a sign of a prolonged winter, but a cloudy or rainy day means spring is not far away:

If Candlemas Day is fair and clear
There'll be two winters in one year (Traditional Scottish)
If Candlemas Day be wind and rain
Winter is gone and won't come again (Traditional Warwickshire)
If Candlemas Day be sunny and warm
Ye may mend your ault mittens and look for a storm (Traditional Cumbrian)
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again!

The belief that Candlemas was an important time to foretell the weather for the coming season is also found in the practice of watching the hibernating hedgehog or badger, one that continued through the Middle Ages. The hedgehog was supposed to emerge from its underground burrow for the first time on this day. If the sun was shining, however, the hedgehog might catch sight of its shadow and be scared back underground for another six weeks, encouraging winter to linger on. If the weather was cloudy, all would be well and the animal could safely stay above ground, letting everyone know that spring was near. In the United States this day is now observed as Groundhog Day.

As a postscript, it is worth noting the existence of a second festival, two weeks later, that was held in Rome. Called the Lupercalia, it too was a candle-lighting festival, held in honour of Proserpina's return from the underworld and reunion with her mother Ceres (the Roman names for Persephone and Demeter). The date of this festival, February 14, was later taken over by the Church and named after the little-known St Valentine. St Valentine's Day, when lovers declare their passion, remains today as an echo of the fertility rites of Brigid. As Ophelia remarks of Valentine's Day in Hamlet: `young men will do't if they come to't'.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Grey Abbey Conservation Project & The Irish Penny Journal, 1840: Saint Bridget's Shawl

The Grey Abbey Conservation Project

It is intended to include historical and archaeological material relating to Grey Abbey and Kildare Town, as well as keeping you posted on the work of the Project. The Grey Abbey Conservation Project is based in Kildare Town, County Kildare.


Poem by Paddy McCormack of Kildare Town dedicated to St. Brigid, to commemorate St. Brigid's Day, 1st February. The McCormack family have long been in business in Kildare Town and Paddy McCormack, who was well known for his poems and songs throughout Ireland and the US, is buried in Lackagh Cemetery. ...more

Contained within this splendid site are many pieces about Saint Brigid, including, from the November 14, 1840 issue of the Irish Penny Journal, the lovely tale-within-a-tale of Saint Brigid's Shawl, as told to "T.E." by the extraordinary character, Pat Mowlds.

AMONGST the many extraordinary characters with which this country abounds, such as fools, madmen, onshochs, omadhauns, hair-brains, crack-brains, and naturals, I have particularly taken notice of one. His character is rather singular. He begs about Newbridge, county of Kildare: he will accept of any thing offered him, except money—that he scornfully refuses; which fulfils the old adage, “None but a fool will refuse money.” His habitation is the ruins of an old fort or ancient stronghold called Walshe’s Castle, on the road to Kilcullen, near Arthgarvan, and within a few yards of the river Liffey, far away from any dwelling. There he lies on a bundle of straw, with no other covering save the clothes he wears all day. Many is the evening I have seen this poor crazy crea­ture plod along the road to his desolate lodging. There is another stamp of singularity on his character: his name is Pat Mowlds, but who dare attempt to call him Pat? It must be Mr Mowlds, or he will not only be offended himself, but will surely offend those who neglect this respect. In general he is of a downcast, melancholy disposition, boasts of being very learned, is much delighted when any one gives him a ballad or old newspaper. Sometimes he gets into a very good humour, and will relate many anecdotes in a droll style.
About two years ago, as I happened to be sauntering along the border of the Curragh, I overtook this solitary being.
“A fine morning, Mr Mowlds,” was my address.
“Yes, sur, thank God, a very fine morning; shure iv we don’t have fine weather in July, when will we have it ?“
“What a great space of ground this is to lie waste—what a quantity of provisions it would produce—what a number of people it would employ and feed!” said I.
“Oh, that’s very thrue, sur; but was it all sown in pittaties, what would become ov the poor sheep? Shure we want mutton as well as pittaties—besides, all the devarshin we have every year.—Why, thin, maybe ye have e’er an ould newspaper or ballit about ye?“
I said I had not, but a couple of Penny Journals should be at his service which I had in my pocket.
“Och, any thing at all that will keep a body amused, though I have got a great many of them; but among them all I don’t see any pitcher or any account of the round tower furninst ye; nor any account ov the fire Saint Bridget kept in night an’ day for six hundred years; nor any thing about the raison why it was put out; nor any thing about how Saint Bridget came by this piece ov ground; nor any thing about the ould Earl ov Kildare, who rides round the Curragh every seventh year with silver spurs and silver reins to his horse—God bless ye, sur, have ye e’er a bit of tobacky?—there’s not a word about this poor counthry at all.”
My senses were now driven to anxiety—I gave him some tobacco. He then resumed:—
“Och, an’ faix it’s myself that can tell all about those things. Shure my grandfather was brother to one of the ould anshint bards who left him all his books, and he left them to my mother, who left them to me.”
“Well, Mr Mowlds,” I said, “you must have a perfect knowledge of those things—let us hear something of their contents.”
“Why, thin, shure, sur, I can’t do less. Now, you see, sur, it’s my fashion like the priests and ministhers goin’ to praich: they must give a bit ov a text out ov some larned book, and that’s the way with me. So here goes—mind the words:
“The seventeenth ov March, on King Dermot’s great table,
Where ninety-nine beeves were all roast at a time,
We dhrank to the memory, while we wor able,
Ov Pathrick, the saint ov our nation;
And gaily wor dhrinkin’, roarin’, shoutin’,
Cead mille faltha, acushla machree.
There was Cathleen so fair, an’ Elleen so rare!
With Pathrick an’ Nora,
An’ flauntin’ Queen Dorah!
On Pathrick’s day in the mornin’.
County Kildare an’ the sky over it!
Short grass for ever !”
He thus ended with a kick up of his heel which nearly touched the nape of his neck, and a flourish of his stick at the same time. Then turning to me he said,
“I am not going to tell you one word about the fire—I am going to tell you how Saint Bridget got all this ground. Bad luck to Black Noll (a name given to Cromwell) with his crew ov dirty Sasanachs that tore down the church; and if they could have got on the tower, that would be down also. No matther—every dog will have his day. Sit down on this hill till we have a shaugh ov the dhudheen. In this hill lie buried all the bones ov the poor fellows that Gefferds killed the time ov the throuble, peace an’ rest to their souls!”
“But to the story, Mr Mowlds,” I said, as I watched him with impatiencc while he readied his pipe with a large pin.
“Well, sur, here goes. Bad luck to this touch, it’s damp: the rain blew into my pocket t’other night an’ wetted it—ha, I have it.
Now, sur, you persave by the words ov my text that a great feast was kept up every year at the palace of Castle­dermot on Saint Pathrick’s day. Nothing was to be seen for many days before but slaughtering ov bullocks, skiverin’ ov pullets, rowlin’ in ov barrels, an’ invitin’ all the quolity about the counthry; nor did the roolocks and spalpeens lag behind—they never waited to be axt; all came to lind a frindly hand at the feast; nor war the kings ov those days above raisin’ the ax to slay a bullock. King O’Dermot was one ov those slaughtherin’ kings who wouldn’t cringe at the blood ov any baste.
‘Twas on one ov those festival times that he sallied out with his ax in his hand to show his dexterity in the killin’ way. The butchers brought him the cattle one afther another, an’ he laid them down as fast as they could be dhrained ov their blood.
Afther layin’ down ninety-nine, the last ov a hundhred was brought to him. Just as he riz the ax to give it the clout, the ox with a sudden chuck drew the stake from the ground, and away with him over hill an’ dale, with the swingin’ block an’ a hundred spalpeens at his heels. At last he made into the river just below Kilcullen, when a little gossoon thought to get on his back; but his tail bein’ very long, gave a twitch an’ hitched itself in a black knot round the chap’s body, and so towed him across the river.
Away with him then across the Curragh, ever till he came to where Saint Bridget lived. He roared at the gate as if for marcy. Saint Bridget was just at the door when she saw the ox with his horns thrust through the bars.
‘Arrah, what ails ye, poor baste?’ sez she, not seein’ the boy at his tail.
‘Och,’ sez the boy, makin’ answer for the ox, ‘for marcy sake let me in. I’m the last ov a hundred that was goin’ to be kilt by King O’Dermot for his great feast to.morrow; but he little knows who I am.’
Begor, when she heard the ox spake, she was startled; but rousin’ herself, she said,
‘Why, thin, it ‘ud be fitther for King O’Dermot to give me a few ov yees, than be feedin’ Budhavore: it’s well you come itself.’
‘Ah, but, shure, you won’t kill me, Biddy Darlin,’ sez the chap, takin’ the hint, as it was nigh dark, and Biddy couldn’t see him with her odd eye; for you must know, sur, that she was such a purty girl when she was young, that the boys used to be runnin’ in dozens afther her. At last she prayed for somethin’ to keep them from tormenting her. So you see, sur, she was seized with the small-pox at one side ov her face, which blinded up her eye, and left the whole side ov her face in furrows, while the other side remained as beautiful as ever
‘In troth you needn’t fear me killin’ ye,’ sez she; ‘but where can I keep ye?’
‘Och,’ says the arch wag, ‘shure when I grow up to be a bull I can guard yer ground.’
‘Ground, in yeagh,’ sez the saint; ‘shure I havn’t as much as would sow a ridge ov pittaties, barrin’ the taste I have for the girls to walk on.’
‘And did you ax the king for nane?’ sed the supposed ox.
‘In troth I did, but the ould budhoch refused me twice’t.’
‘Well, Biddy honey,’ sez the chap, ‘the third offer’s lucky. Go to-morrow, when he’s at dinner, and you may come at the soft side ov him. But won’t you give some refreshment to this poor boy that I picked up on the road? I fear he is dead or smothered hanging at my tail.’
Well, to be sure, the chap hung his head (moryeah) when he sed this.
Out St Bridget called a dozen ov nuns, who untied the knot, and afther wipin’ the chap as clean as a new pin, brought him into the kitchen, and crammed him with the best of aitin’ and drinkin’; but while they wor doing this, away legged the ox. St Bridget went out to ax him some questions consarnin’ the king, but he was gone.
“Pon my sowkins,’ sed she, ‘but that was a mighty odd thing entirely. Faix, an it’s myself that will be off to Castledermot to-morrow, hit or miss.’
Well, sur, the next day she gother together about three dozen nuns.
‘Toss on yer mantles,’ sez she, ‘an’ let us be off to Castledermot.’
‘With all harts,’ sez they.
‘Come here, Norah,’ sez she to the sarvint maid. ‘Slack down the fire,’ sez she, ‘and be sure you have the kittle on. I couldn’t go to bed without my tay, was it ever so late.’
So afther givin’ her ordhers off they started.
Well, behould ye, sur, when she got within two miles ov the palace, word was brought to the king that St Bridget and above five hundred nuns were on the road, comin’ to dine with him.
‘O tundheranounthers,’ roared the king, ‘what’ll I do for their dinner? Why the dhoul didn’t she come an hour sooner, or sent word yestherday? Such a time for visithers! Do ye hear me, Paudeen Roorke?’ sez he, turnin’ to his chief butler: ‘run afther Rory Condaugh, and ax him did he give away the two hind quarthers that I sed was a little rare.’
‘Och, yer honor,’ sed Paudeen Roorke, ‘shure he gev them to a parcel of boccochs at the gate.’
‘The dhoul do them good with it! Oh, fire and faggots! what’ll become ov me?—shure she will say I have no hospita­lity, an’ lave me her curse. But, cooger, Paudeen: did the roolocks overtake the ox that ran away yestherday?’
‘Och, the dhoul a haugh ov him ever was got, yer honor.’
‘Well, it’s no matther; that’ll be a good excuse; do you go and meet her; I lave it all to you to get me out ov this hobble.’
‘Naboclish,’ said Paudeen Roorke, cracking his fingers, an’out he started. Just as he got to the door he met her going to come in. Well become the king, but he shlipt behind the door to hear what ud be sed. ‘Bedhahusth,’ he roared to the guests that wor going to dhrink his health while his back was turned.
‘God save yer reverence!’ said St Bridget to the butler, takin’ him for the king’s chaplain, he had such a grummoch face on him; ‘can I see the king?’
‘God save you kindly!’ sed Paudeen, ‘to be shure ye can.
Who will I say wants him?’ eyeing the black army at her heels.
‘Tell him St Bridget called with a few friends to take pot luck.’
‘Oh, murther!’ sed Paudeen, ‘why didn’t you come an hour sooner? I’m afraid the meat is all cowld, we waited so long for ye.’
‘Och, don’t make any bones about it,’ sed St Bridget: ‘it’s a cowld stummock can’t warm its own mait.’
‘In troth that’s thrue enough,’ sed Paudeen; ‘but I fear there isn’t enough for so many.
‘Why, ye set of cormorals,’ sed she, ‘have ye swallied the whole ninety-nine oxen that ye kilt yestherday?’
‘Oh, blessed hour!’ groaned the king to himself, ‘how did she know that? Och, I suppose she knows I’m here too.’
‘Oh, bad scran to me!’ said Paudeen, ‘but we had the best and fattest keepin’ for you, but he ran away.’
‘In troth you needn’t tell me that,’ sez she; ‘I know all about yer doings. If I’m sent away without my dinner itself, I must see the king.’
Just as she sed this, a hiccup seized the king, so loud that it reached the great hall. The guests, who war all silent by the king’s order, thought he sed hip, hip!—so. Such a shout, my jewel as nearly frightened the saint away.
‘In troth,’ ses she, ‘I’d be very sorry to venthur among such a set of riff-raff, any way. But who’s this behind the door?’ sez she, cockin’ her eye. ‘Oh, I beg pardon!—I hope no inthrusion—there ye are—ye’ll save me the trouble ov goin’ in.’
‘Oh,’ sed the king (hic), ‘I tuck a little sick in my stum­mock, and came down to get fresh air. I beg pardon. Why didn’t you come in time to dinner?’
‘I want no dinner,’ said she; ‘I came to speak on affairs ov state.’
‘Why, thin,’ said the king, ‘before ye state them, ye must come in and take a bit in yer fingers, at any rate.’
‘In troth,’ sez she, ‘I was always used to full and plenty, and not any scrageen bits; and to think ov a king’s table not having a flaugooloch meal, is all nonsense: that’s like the taste ov ground I axt ye for some time ago.’
Begor, sur, when she sed that, she gev him such a start that the hiccough left him.
‘Ah, Biddy, honey,’ sez he, ‘shure ye wor only passin a joke to cure me: say no more—it’s all gone.’
Just as he sed this, he heard a great shout at a distance: out he pulled his specks, an’ put them on his nose; when to his joy he saw a whole crowd ov spalpeens dhrivin’ the ox be­fore them. The king, forgettin’ who he was spaikin’ to, took off his caubeen, and began to wave it, as he ran off to meet them.
‘Oh! mahurpendhoul, but ye’re brave fellows,’ sez he; ‘who­ever it was that cotch him shall have a commission in my life guards. I never wanted a joint more. Galong, every mo­ther’s son ov yees, and borry all the gridirons and frying-pans ye can get. Hand me the axe, till I have some steaks tost up for a few friends.’
So, my jewel, while ye’d say thrap-stick, the ox was down, an’ on the gridirons before the life was half out ov him.
Well, to be shure, St Bridget got mighty hungry, as she had walked a long way. She then tould the king that the gen­tlemen should lave the room, as she could not sit with any one not in ordhers, and they being a little out ov ordher. So, to make themselves agreeable to her ordhers, they quit the hall, and went out to play at hurdles.
When the king recollected who he was goin’ to give dinner to, sez he to himself, ‘Shure no king ought to be above sarvin’ a saint.’ So over he goes to his wife the queen.
‘Dorah,’ sez he,’ do ye know who’s within?’ ‘Why, to be shure I do,’ sez she; ‘ain’t it Bridheen na Keogue?’
‘Ye’re right,’ sez he, ‘and you know she’s a saint; an’ I think it will be- for the good ov our sowls that she kem here to-day. Come, peel off yer muslins, and help me up wid the dinner.’
‘In troth I’ll not,’ sez the queen; ‘shure ye know I’m a black Prospitarian, an’ bleeve nun ov yer saints.’
‘Arrah, nun ov yer quare ways,’ sez he: ‘don’t you wish my sowl happy, any how?—an’ if you help me, you will be only helpin’ my sowl to heaven.’
‘Oh, in that case,’ sez she, ‘here’s at ye: and the sooner the betther. But one charge I’d give ye: take care how ye open your claub about ground: ye know she thought to come round ye twice before.
So in the twinklin’ ov an eye she went down to the kitchen, an’ put on a prashkeen, an’ was first dish at the table.
The king saw every one lashin’ away at their dinner except Bridget.
‘Arrah, Biddy, honey,’ sez he, ‘why don’t ye help yerself?’
‘Why, thin,’ sez she, ‘the dhoul a bit, bite or sup, I’ll take undher yer roof until ye grant me one favour.’
‘And what is that?’ sez the king; ‘shure ye know a king must stand to his word was it half his kingdom, and how do I know but ye want to chouse me out ov it: let me know first what ye want.’
‘Well, thin, Mr King O’Dermot,’ sez she, ‘all I want is a taste ov ground to sow a few pays in.’
‘Well, an’ how much do ye want, yer reverence,’ sez he, all over ov a thrimble, betune his wife’s dark looks, and the curse he expected from Bridget if he refused.
‘Not much,’ sez she, ‘for the present. You don’t know how I’m situated. All the pilgrims going to Lough Dhearg are sent to me to put the pays in their brogues, an’ ye know I havn’t as much ground as would sow a pint; but if ye only give me about fifty acres, I’ll be contint.’
‘Fifty acres!’ roared the king, stretching his neck like a goose.
‘Fifty acres!’ roared the queen, knitting her brows; ‘shure that much ground would fill their pockets as well as their brogues.’
‘There ye’re out ov it,’ said the saint; ‘why, it would’nt be half enough if they got their dhue according to their sins; but I’ll lave it to yerself.’
‘How much will ye give?’ ‘Not an acre,’ said the queen.
‘Oh, Dorah,’ sed the king, ‘let me give the crathur some.’
‘Not an inch,’ sed the queen, ‘if I’m to be misthress here.’
‘Oh, I beg pardon,’ sez the saint; ‘so, Mr King O’Der­mot, you are undher petticoat government I see; but maybe I won’t match ye for all that. Now, take my word, you shall go on penance to Lough Dhearg before nine days is about; and instead ov pays ye shall have pebble stones and swan shot in yer brogues. But it’s well for you, Mrs Queen, that ye’re out ov my reach, or I’d send you there barefooted, with no­thing on hut yer stockings.’
When the king heard this, he fell all ov a thrimble. ‘Oh, Dorah,’ sez he, ‘give the crathur a little taste ov ground to satisfy her.’
‘No, not as much as she could play ninepins on,’ sez she, shakin’ her fist and grindin’ her teeth together; ‘and I hope she may send you to Lough Dhearg, as she sed she would.’
‘Why, thin, have ye no feeling for one ov yer own sex?’ sez the saint. ‘I’ll go my way this minit, iv ye only give me as much as my shawl will cover.’
‘Oh, that’s a horse ov another colour,’ sez the queen; ‘you may have that, with a heart and a half. But you know very well if I didn’t watch that fool ov a man, he’d give the very nose off his face if a girl only axt him how he was.’
Well, sur, when the king heard this, he grew as merry as a cricket. ‘Come, Biddy,’ sez he, ‘we mustn’t have a dhry bargain, any how.’
‘Oh, ye’ll excuse me, Mr King O’Dermot,’ sez she; ‘I never drink stronger nor wather.’
‘Oh, son ov Fingal,’ exclaimed the king, ‘do ye hear this, and it Pathrick’s day!’
‘Oh, I intirely forgot that,’ sez she. ‘Well, then, for fear ye’d say I was a bad fellow, I’ll just taste. Shedhurdh.’
Well, sur, after the dhough-an-dheris she went home very well pleased that she was to get ever a taste ov ground at all, and she promised the king to make his pinance light, and that she would boil the pays for him, as she did with young men ov tendher conshinses; but as to ould hardened sinners, she’d keep the pays till they’d be as stale as a sailor’s bisket.
Well, to be shure, when she got home she set upwards ov a hundhred nuns at work to make her shawl, during which time she was never heard of. At last, afther six months’ hard la­bour, they got it finished.
‘Now, sez she, ‘it’s time I should go see the king, that he may come and see that I take no more than my right. So, taking no one with her barrin’ herself and one nun, off she set.
The king and queen were just sitting down to tay at the parlour window when she got there.
‘Whoo! talk of the dhoul and he’ll appear,’ sez he. ‘Why, thin, Biddy honey, it’s an age since we saw ye. Sit down; we’re just on the first cup. Dorah and myself were afther talkin’ about ye, an’ thought ye forgot us intirely. Well, did ye take that bit ov ground?’
‘Indeed I’d be very sorry to do the likes behind any one’s back. You must come to-morrow and see it measured.’
‘Not I, ‘pon my sowkins,’ sed the king: ‘do ye think me so mane as to doubt yer word?’
‘Pho! pho!’ sed the queen, ‘such a taste is not worth talkin’ ov; but, just to honour ye, we shall attind in state to-morrow. Sit down.’
She took up her station betune the king an’ queen: the purty side ov her face was next the king, an’ the ugly side next the queen.
‘I can’t be jealous ov you, at any rate,’ sod the queen to her­self, as she never saw her veil off before.
‘Oh, murther!’ sez the king, ‘what a pity ye’re a saint, and Dorah to be alive. Such a beauty!’
Just as he was starin’, the queen happened to look over at a looking-glass, in which she saw Biddys pretty side.
‘Hem!’ sez she, sippin’ her cup. ‘Dermot,’ sez she, ‘it’s very much out ov manners to be stuck with ladies at their tay. Go take a shaugh ov the dhudheen, while we talk over some affairs ov state.’
Begor, sur, the king was glad ov the excuse to lave them together, in the hopes St Bridget would convart his wife.
Well, sur, whatever discoorse they had, I disremember, but the queen came down in great humour to wish the saint good night, an’ promised to be on the road the next day to Kildare.
‘Faix,’ sez the saint, ‘I was nigh forgettin’ my gentility to wish the king good night. Where is he?’
‘Augh, and shure myself doesn’t know, barrin’ he’s in the kitchen.’
‘In the kitchen!’ exclaimed the saint; ‘oh fie!’
‘Ay, indeed, just cock yer eye,’ sez the queen, ‘to the a key-hole: that dhudheen is his excuse. I can’t keep a maid for him.’
‘Oh! is that the way with him?.—never fear: I’ll make his pinance purty sharp for that. At any rate call him out an’ let us part in friends.’
So, sur, afther all the compliments wor passed, the king sed he should go see her a bit ov the road, as it was late: so off he went. The moon had just got up, an’ he walked alongside the saint at the ugly side; but when he looked round to praise her, an’ pay her a little compliment, he got sich a fright that he’d take his oath it wasn’t her at all, so he was glad to get back to the queen.
Well, sur, next morning the queen ordhered the long car to be got ready, with plenty ov clean straw in it, as in those times they had no coaches; then regulated her life guards, twelve to ride before and twelve behind, the king at one side and the chief butler at the other, for without the butler she couldn’t do at all, as every mile she had to stop the whole re­tinue till she’d get refreshment. In the meantime, St Bridget placed her nuns twenty-one miles round the Curragh. At last the thrumpet sounded, which gave notice that the king was coming. As soon as they halted, six men lifted the queen up on the throne, which they brought with them on the long car. The king ov coorse got up by her side.
‘Well, Dorah,’ sez he in a whisper, ‘what a laugh we’ll have at Biddy, with her shawl!’
‘I don’t know that neither,’ sez the queen. ‘It looks as thick as Finmocool’s boulsther, as it hangs over her shoulder.’
‘God save yer highness,’ sed the saint, as she kem up to them. ‘Why, ye sted mighty long. I had a snack ready for ye at one o’clock.’
‘Och, it’s no matther,’ sez the queen; ‘measure yer bit ov ground, and we then can have it in comfort.’
So with that St Bridget threw down her shawl, which she had cunningly folded up.
Now, sur, this shawl was made ov fine sewin’ silk, all net­work, each mesh six feet square, and tuck thirty-six pounds ov silk, and employed six hundred and sixty nuns for three months making it.
Well, sur, as I sed afore, she threw it on the ground.
‘Here, Judy Conway, run to Biddy Conroy with this corner, an’ let her make aff in the direckshin ov Kildare, an’ be shure she runs the corner into the mon’stery. Here, you, Nelly Murphy, make off to Kilcullen; an’ you, Katty Farrel, away with you to Ballysax; an’ you, Nelly Doye, away to Arthgarvan; an’ you, Rose Regan, in the direckshin of Connell; an’ you, Ellen Fogarty, away in the road to Maddenstown an’you, Jenny Purcel, away to Airfield. Just hand it from one to t’other.’
So givin’ three claps ov her hand, off they set like hounds, an’ in a minnit ye’d think a haul ov nuns wor cotched in the net.
‘Oh, millia murther!’ sez the queen, ‘she’s stretchin’ it over my daughter’s ground.’
‘Oh, blud-an’-turf!’ sez the king, ‘now she’s stretchin’ it over my son’s ground. Galong, ye set ov thaulabawns,’ sed he to his life-guards; ‘galong, I say, an’ stop her, else she’ll cover all my dominions.’
“Oh fie, yer honour,’ sez the chief butler; ‘if you break yer word, I’m not shure ov my wages.’
Well behould ye, sur, in less than two hours Saint Bridget had the whole Curragh covered.
‘Now see what a purty kittle of fish you’ve made ov it!’ sez the queen.
‘No, but it’s you, Mrs Queen O’Derrnot, ‘twas you agreed to this.’
‘Ger out, ye ould bosthoon,’ sez the queen, ‘ye desarve it all: ye might aisy guess that she’d chouse ye. Shure iv ye had a grain ov sinse, ye might recollect how yer cousin King O’Toole was choused by Saint Kavin out ov all his ground, by the saint stuffin’ a lump ov a crow into the belly ov the ould goose.’
‘Well, Dorah, never mind; if she makes a hole, I have a peg for it. Now, Biddy,’ sez he, ‘though I gave ye the ground, I forgot to tell ye that I only give it for a certain time. I now tell ye from this day forward you shall only have it while ye keep yer fire in.’”
Here I lost the remainder of his discourse by my ill man­ners. I got so familiar with Mr Mowlds, and so interested with his story, that I forgot my politeness.
“And what about the fire, PAT ?” said I, without consideration.
Before I could recollect the offence, he turned on me with the eyes of a maniac—
“The dhoul whishper nollege into your ear. Pat! — (hum)
Pat!—Pat!—this is freedom, with all my heart.”
So saying, he strode away, muttering something between his teeth. However, I hope again to meet him, when I shall be little more cautious in my address.
[Original spelling and grammar retained – no attempt has been made to correct or explain the conversational vernacular used to present the story. It is of course quite possible that the author has merely invented Mr. Mowlds as a literary vehicle for poking fun at the Irish peasantry or simply a vehicle to make the story humourous for the readers of the Irish Penny Journal. There are obvious historical inaccuracies which may indicate confusion in the maintenance of the oral history or a deliberate attempt to entertain the reader by introducing characters and places familiar to the listener –King Dermot may mistakenly refer to Dermot Mac Murrough and his supposed connection to Castledermot but he died in the 12th century – Airfield may be a corruption of a local 19th century name in connection with Eyre Powell, the main landlord in Newbridge. It would be nice to think that the names of the nuns who held the corners of the cloak for Brigid in the story were actual names of real nuns that survived through oral tradition – Mario Corrigan]

Below is the cover of the issue of the Irish Penny Journal of 1840 which contained the story of St. Brigid's Shawl. The image is of Malahide Castle, Co. Dublin.

Irish Penny Journal.jpg

Penny Journal closeup 72dpi.jpg

In November 1840 the Irish Penny Journal carried a story of how St. Brigid's extended her Shawl across the Curragh to claim the land for her monastey at Kildare. It is told in the form of a conversation the author had with a local man, Pat Mowlds who probably lived at at Walshestown, Newbridge.

Posted by mariocorrigan at 10:49 PM

Help Save Saint Brigid's Church, San Francisco

Committee to Save St. Brigid Church .
P.O. Box 641318 . San Francisco . California 94164-1318 . Phone: 415-364-1511 . Email: .

Please Help Landmark Interior of St. Brigid's

St. Brigid Church, Van Ness & Broadway
St. Brigid Church at Van Ness & Broadway,
serving San Francisco since 1863
St. Brigid’s survived the 1906 earthquake, the great depression, two world wars – and an attempt by San Francisco’s Catholic archdiocese to demolish it.

The Committee to Save St. Brigid Church was successful in landmarking the exterior of the building, including the beautiful stained glass windows imported from Ireland. We are now working to landmark the interior.

Seamus Murphy sculpting Saint Brigid, 1948

Van Ness Ave. 1906. Photo courtesy of The Society of California Pioneers, Alice Phelan Sullivan Library, Turrill Coll.

St. Brigid Church, interior front

[ more pictures ]

The furnishings and artwork inside St. Brigid’s are veritable treasures: exquisite turn-of-the century angelic statuary by San Francisco artist John McQuarrie (MacQuarrie); marble Holy Water Fonts in memory of California pioneer Alice Phelan Sullivan; ornately carved pews and paneling; and the Ruffatti pipe organ, marble altars, sculptures, and Stations of the Cross, all custom made and imported from Italy.

    St. Brigid Church is a cultural and architectural
    landmark in the Marina, Pacific Heights
    and Russian Hill neighborhoods.

In Memory of Alice Phelan Sullivan
St. Brigid’s was built by Irish immigrants, the first group to settle the surrounding area. It was intended from its beginning to be one of the finest churches in the country and no expense was ever spared. St. Brigid’s became a source of pride not only for the Irish community but for all of Catholic San Francisco. San Francisco’s beloved Mayor George Moscone attended the adjoining parochial school (still in operation), and from here his funeral Mass was held. Generations of San Franciscans have called St. Brigid Church their spiritual home and have watched the important milestones of their lives play out within its walls.

This excellent example of Romanesque architecture has stood at the corner of Van Ness and Broadway for over 100 years. It withstood the 1906 Earthquake and Fire and contributed to the city’s recovery according to the legends and stories that filtered down through parish families.

St. Brigid’s was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in October 1995, is on the California Register of Historic Resources, and is widely listed among San Francisco’s most historically significant buildings.

In 2006, the exterior of St. Brigid Church including the Harry Clarke stained glass windows and the Seamus Murphy statues of St. Brigid surrounded by the twelve apostles, became San Francisco Landmark #252. At that time the City's landmark ordinance did not explicitly allow for interior landmarking. But soon after, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick Harry Clarke Windows and John McQuarrie Angel introduced legislation to allow the landmarking of publicly accessible interiors in privately owned buildings.

On January 6, 2009, Supervisor Aaron Peskin sponsored a resolution initiating the interior landmarking process for St. Brigid. An interior landmark application is now being prepared and will soon be heard by the Historic Planning Commission of San Francisco. You can help us achieve St. Brigid interior landmarking by registering your support. Please email us and let us know. We will keep you posted of upcoming hearings and how you can help. Thank you very much!


Down with Saint Patrick, Up with Brigid...

A long blog post by Lynn Spirit on Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, with many lovely images. I haven't yet tracked down who painted this first one, but mmm, mmm. If anyone knows, please tell me!