Wednesday, May 30, 2012

La Féile Bhríde--AFRI-Style

Action From Ireland (AFRI) has long had a close association with the Brigidine sisters at Solas Bhride in Kildare. Of themselves they say "Afri engages in development education in a world in which the gap between rich and poor continues to widen and in which war, violence and militarism continue to wreak havoc on the lives of millions of people".

It isn't surprising then that their colourful and passionate celebration of Brigit's feast day has a somewhat different slant than many. Embedded below is the three-minute video from their post that describes that day, "Impressions from Afri’s Féile Bríde 2012". (See if you can spot Sr. Mary Minehan in the ceremonies.)

When you have read that post, noodle around to the homepage and have a look at some of the projects AFRI has on the go.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Solas Bhríde Development Project

It is worth noodling back now and again to websites you think you know. I was surprised a while back to learn that Solas Bhríde is planning a grand development. In response to the great influx of pilgrims over the last few years, a centre with hermitages will be created on land purchased in 2007, costing a projected €4.75 million. (Follow the above link for a quick computer-graphic tour of the proposed facility.)

It will have:

• Reception and exhibition space
• Conference room
• Four self-catering hermitages
• Spirituality education and library area
• Hospitality room
• Chapel / prayer room
• Spiritual accompanying / counselling room
• Meeting room
• Residential facilities for two staff members
• Ancillary service and utility spaces

"The Hermitages will provide an opportunity for pilgrims to stay and experience solitude and quiet in a nurturing atmosphere.

"The design of the Centre is inspired by the evocative imagery of Brigid’s legacy and legends and is centred on ecological concerns. The Centre and gardens will be integrated into a natural landscape with a meditative garden, labyrinth and cosmic walk.

"The many thousands of pilgrims and visitors who come to Kildare and experience the rituals and celebrations at St Brigid’s Wells will be further enriched by the new landscape and its meditative and uplifting features."

I have to admit that, although I'm sure it will be very valuable, it sounds a bit overwhelming in comparison to the small house and welcoming attention of the two individuals I met there years ago. The experience would be a very different one indeed. On the other hand, it promises to give back to the sisters some of the privacy and solitude needed for a life of prayer, as opposed to a life of tour-guiding. : )

The sisters had hoped to turn the sod this past Imbolc, but insufficient funds held them back. Not for long though. They plan to sign the contract and turn the sod by the beginning of summer.

To see where they are at in the fund-raising (not too bad!) click here and to make a contribution, click here.

Best of luck to the sisters and the many Brigidines who are working on this project. I hope one day to visit the new centre, which though different will no doubt be wonderful.

Handmade St. Brigid Statue

I have to admit this statue doesn't appeal to me personally--I am a lover of iconography and sacred statuary, yet somehow I have never found a statue of Brigit, either as goddess or as saint, which really satisfies my aesthetic sense of her. That's me. You may take to this one.
Said to be handmade, though not specifying what material (it looks like plastic to me), the figure is made by Hank Schlau and painted by his wife Karen. 9" high, she stands holding a four-armed rush cross, a fire burning at her feet and a halo round her head.
Available for 50$ from the Catholic Company. (Check out Schlau's figure of St Francis with Medieval Trees, as well.)

Brigit's Environment

Sometimes we peer so closely at a given detail the context around it blurs away. I've been giving some thought today to Brigit's natural environment, in the area around Kildare. Here are a couple of things you might find of interest.

The plain which Brigit claimed from the king of Leinster with the old vastly-expanding-cloak trick is known today as The Curragh, and is more famous for its racehorses than its nuns. Overlooking this plain is the Hill of Allen, where Fionn MacCumhail and the Fianna of old were known to gather. On one edge of the plain is the ancient Pollardstown Fen.

The Curragh has until very recently been largely unenclosed, the greatest remaining piece of commonage in Ireland, where the beasts of the community were pastured together.

Bit by bit it is being divided--roadway, fences, turf-cutting, and so on. But much of the area is still home to a variety of wildlife and plants, as well as to sheep, horses, military personnel, and so on. Among the native inhabitants are bird's-foot trefoil, autumnal hawkbit, lady's bedstraw, wild thyme and tormentil, as well as skylarks, meadow pipits, chaffinches, snipe, song thrushes and stonechats. Rabbits have replaced the once abundant hares, and grey squirrels and foxes round out the mammalian population.

The Curragh itself is a shallow-soiled grassland resting on a deep gravel layer deposited during the last Ice Age. The many surface springs that cross it have created the marshy Pollardstown Fen, and their calcium-rich waters prevent the normal transformation of the fen into sphagnum bog. Thus the 12 000 year old fen allows a glimpse into an ecosystem now uncommon in Ireland, and one that Brigit herself would have been familiar with.

If you want to look in greater detail at the wildflowers you encounter in the hedgerows, pastures, and fen of Kildare, have a look at this elegant and extremely useful site: Wildflowers of Ireland by Zoë Devlin. It is organized so that you can find the flower before you in several ways, by its name, colour, location, family, and so on. The photos are clear and very helpful and there are links to maps where the flower has been found. Devlin is the author of 'Wildflowers of Ireland - A personal Record', from Collins Press Cork.

For an in-depth study of The Curragh of Kildare (sadly out of my price range at the moment), look to John Feehan's Cuirrech Life - The Curragh of Kildare, Ireland.

And to learn about the environmental issues facing check out the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland's page on Pollardstown Fen, "Examinind the Relationship Between Human Activities and Climate Change in the Wetlands of Ireland: FINAL TECHNICAL REPORT", or the paper The Kildare By-Pass and Pollardstown Fen by Catherine O Donnell as well as Preservation of the Curragh, a page on the site of the County Kildare Archaeological Society.

To learn more about Kildare's hedgerows, follow this link to The County Kildare Hedgerow Survey Report. For information on a variety of issues see the blog of the Irish Wildlife Trust Kildare Branch.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Another Brigit Novel!

To my surprise and delight I stumbled the other day across an unknown (to me) novel involving the goddess Brigit. Written by English author Sarah Baylis, it is a Young Adult offering that pre-dates all the saintly novels by several years. I have added my review of this book to the previous novel posting, so please wander back there and have a look.

Brigit Hymn Made From Traditional Irish Song

American musician Craig Olson has done a slightly altered version of the traditional Irish song "Brigid O'Malley" in honour of the goddess Brigit. Nicely done, though the links to his website are maddening.

This is one of my all-time favourite Irish songs, so I will follow this version with a couple of traditional ones, first in Irish, then in English.

In its original state, a love song to a woman and not a goddess, here is the Irish band, The Corrs, with Brid Og Ni Mhaille (Gaelige):

And the Scottish band Silly Wizard's English language version, still traditional, still beautiful: