ST. BRIGID OF IRELAND

February 1 is the feast of St. Brigid, often called the Mary of the Gael, and her feast day, along with that of St Patrick, and Our Lady of Knock, are the official holy days of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who gather annually for a Mass in her honor.  St. Brigid’s life was a remarkable one, and the places in Ireland, associated with her, are scenes of pilgrimage throughout the year.

Brigid was born in a society ruled by the old Gaelic Order and the Druidic religion. St. Patrick had already reached Ireland, and was in the process of changing all that, but although his message may have reached the court of Dubhtach, the powerful Leinster Chieftain held firm to the old religion. In that religion, one of the most powerful Goddesses was Brid or Brigid, the Goddess of Fire whose manifestations were song and poetry, which the Celts considered the flame of knowledge. Her feast day was the first festival of the year and was held on February 1. It was the beginning of the working season for farmers and fishermen and a time of husbanding of animals, and the Celts called on Brid to bless their work as bonfires were lit in her honor.

Patrick did not condemn the Celts as idolatrous pagans, but explained their druidic customs in Christian terms, and gradually, Bible heroes and Christian saints began to replace the Celtic Gods and Goddesses on the Irish calendar. However, the personalities of some of the Celtic deities was so strong that they could not be replaced; one of these was Brid, and the rites associated with her continued to be practiced each February 1 right into Christian times. But that was soon to change.

At about 453 AD, a child was born out of wedlock between Dubhtach and one of his Christian slaves named Brocessa. The slave girl was sent to a Druid priest in a cabin at the foot of the Cooley Mountains near Dundalk, Co Louth, to have the child. The baby was a healthy girl, which was no great joy to Dubhtach who wanted a son. The mother was sold to a Chieftain in Connaught, and the child was left with the Druid to be raised and educated. The child was named Brigid, perhaps to seek the blessing of the Goddess, for from the very beginning, there were indications that she was special. It was reported that she was born at sunrise, and that the cottage in which she was born burst into flame when she left it.

Brigid grew in beauty, and her love for God’s creatures knew no bounds. After her fosterage, she returned to her father’s house as a slave, although she enjoyed the privileges of family. She was given to solitude, and loved to wander the woods befriending the animals. She was renowned for her generosity, giving much of her father’s wealth to the poor. Many are the stories attributed to this remarkable lady, including her journey on foot from Leinster to Connaught to find her mother, whom she freed from bondage, and returned to the house of Dubhtach.

In keeping with the life planned for her, she became a priestess in service to the Goddess Brid, and eventually high priestess at Cill Dara (the temple of the oak), a sanctuary built from the wood of a tree sacred to the Druids, where a perpetual ritual fire was kept in honor of Brid.  The exact circumstance of her conversion to Christianity is unknown, though it is certain that her Christian mother was a guiding influence. Some claim that she personally met St Patrick, which is possible since she was ten years old when he died, but there is no proof of that. Whatever the circumstances, Brigid and her companions in service to Brid, all accepted the Christian faith, and formed Ireland’s first Christian religious community of women. Legend tells that upon her acceptance of her vows, fire appeared above her head.  Brigid changed the pagan sanctuary of Cill Dara into a Christian shrine, which gave its name to the present County Kildare. She extinguished the ritual fire of the Druids, and lit a flame dedicated to Christ which was thereafter maintained by her followers until it was doused by the forces of Henry VIII.

Brigid’s wisdom and generosity became legend, and people traveled from all over the country to share her knowledge.  Her monastery at Kildare became one of the greatest centers of learning in Europe.  She continued her holy and charitable work until her death in 525 AD, when she was laid to rest in a jeweled casket at Cill Dara.  In 835, her remains were moved to protect them from Norse invaders, and interred in the same grave that holds the remains of St Patrick and St Columcille at Downpatrick.

So strong was the respect and reverence for this holy lady that she became the patroness of parishes, towns, and counties, not only in Ireland, but all across Europe.  During the age of Chivalry, she was so revered as a model for women of every age, that gentlemen, knights, and nobles began the custom of calling their sweethearts, their Brides – a custom that has come down to this very day.

In Ireland, the people likened her to Brid, the ancient Goddess of fire and wisdom – for wasn’t Brigid’s life touched with fire, and as for her wisdom – that was undisputed.  She even had a symbol.  As the shamrock became associated with St Patrick, a tiny cross made of rushes was linked with St Brigid.  It was supposedly woven by her to explain the passion of Christ to a dying pagan.  Similar crosses are fashioned to this day as a defense against harm, and placed in the rafters of a cottage on the feast day of St Brigid – February 1.

So it was that reverence for this holy child of Ireland grew so strong that she not only eclipsed Brid, for whom she was named, but was given her feast day.  And the Irish gladly accepted their new saint, and revere her to this day in place of a forgotten Celtic Goddess.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Sadly, there is very little historic evidence – archeological or autobiographical – about this remarkable Saint.  There are many ennobling tales written after her passing, glorifying her life, but some of them are conflicting.  The Catholic Encyclopedia tried to excuse these inconsistencies by stating, “Viewing the biography of St. Brigid from a critical standpoint we must allow a large margin for the vivid Celtic imagination and the glosses of medieval writers.”  Wikipedia Encyclopedia adds that many tales exist which suffer inconsistencies common to such legends, and the only agreement between the various stories is that a girl was born to an Irish king named Dubhtach and that her name was Brigid.

However from the many stories, biographies, lives of the Saints, and other documentation we have researched – both in America and in Kildare – we compiled the beliefs that most often agree between versions, and those that we found to be the most logical.  We have presented them in this biography in the hope of increasing devotion to a most inspirational servant of God and a most remarkable daughter of the Gael. 

AOH Statement for Immigration meeting at Irish Consulate of New York

With hundreds of Hibernian Divisions, that are de facto Irish Cultural centers,  in most major cities, as well as towns and parishes across the US, the AOH has been in the unique position of offering aid to Irish immigrants and immigration efforts  from informed, connected and established members of the  community since our inception 175 years ago. The past 25 years have witnessed both the Irish Immigration Reform Movement and Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform turning to our leadership and members for the vital connectivity that we have to our legislators on local, state and national levels. For it is the Divisions, County, State and National AOH that these legislators seek to associate with to reach Irish American support. Indeed, legislators and their aides are at times members of the AOH/LAOH.

The AOH is grateful for the efforts of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, through its Embassy and Consulates and the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers for enabling the conferences for the AOH, Coalition, Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform, Boston Irish and ILIR that acted as clearinghouses of ideas that lead to the great collaborative and nonpartisan effort towards attaining the Irish E3 Visa Bills.

We also thank Bruce Morrison and ILIR for arranging vital meetings with the White House and were happy to reciprocate by introducing our states’ legislators to Morrison and the Irish Lobby. This bill will remedy many of the future flow immigration issues between Ireland and the US, but our work on the undocumented remains ahead of us. The AOH is working everyday with the Centers and DFA on Irish immigrants facing incarceration, detention, extradition and deportation, as well as our own work with Thar Saile in their long struggle. The AOH efficiently fields inquiries on status adjustment, dual citizenship, retiring to Ireland , pension, legal  and  a variety of matters and connect people with the help they need.

With a network of AOH members across the US, we will continue to work with our legislators, DFA, the Centers, ILIR, the Celts and Boston Irish and others to continue this good work. AOH members are becoming more familiar every day with the Centers and will help them when the really hard work begins for them,  the job of helping the next wave of legal Irish immigrants live, work and become vital members of the rich cultural exchange that has always existed between our two great nations.

Seamus Boyle                                                                                                                                     Dan Dennehy

President, National Board                                                                                                              National Immigration Chairman

Statement on the Irish E3 Bill

Since our inception the AOH has been active in working to improve the lives of Irish immigrants. Now celebrating our 175th year, we continue to live up to the preamble of the AOH Constitution which requires that we encourage an equitable U.S. Immigration law for Ireland, and to cooperate with all groups for a fair American Immigration Policy.

In the 1960‘s, AOH members participated in an effort to prevent removal of the quota of Irish visas by the Immigration Act of 1965. Those concerns were proven as successive economic downturns have left many of the Irish without the option to emigrate legally to the US. In the last 25 years, AOH has worked with the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, Irish Lobby For Immigration Reform, as well as many other organizations and  government officials from the two nations, and elsewhere, to rectify the quota and restore the important cultural exchange between Ireland and the US.

Current events and developments prove our understanding of the need to work with others to meet this goal. One of the great developments of the recent weeks was a video conference  and one week later a teleconference facilitated by the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers and the Irish Embassy. In cities across the US, Irish immigration advocates, in many cases seeing and speaking live to each other for the first time, shared ideas on the recent moves by Congress. AOH, ILIR and Rep. Bruce Morrison, Boston Irish and Chicago Celts and several other advocacy groups outlined recent work towards an Irish E3 and concerns for the undocumented. We look forward to working with all of the groups towards a successful outcome.

The second and more immediate development is the introduction of two bills that propose an Irish E3. The first bill was proposed by Senators Schumer, Leahy and Durbin and it was quickly followed by the Irish Immigration and Encouragement Act sponsored by Republican Senators Brown (MA) and Kirk (IL). While neither bill solves the undocumented issue, they do address future flow from Ireland. The bills would modify the E3 visa, currently available to only Australia and a few select countries. The modifications would recognize Irelands excellent education system and allows Irish Nationals with a “leaving cert” or two years experience in a trade to apply for 10,500 two year renewable visas. We are grateful to the sponsors of both of these bills for their recognition of the longstanding inequities relating to immigration from Ireland.

Right now, AOH members across the US are meeting and reaching out to their US Representatives and Senators as part of the initiative to secure “The Irish E3 Visa.” The AOH maintains that Ireland has been extremely supportive to US Homeland Security and Defense with the Shannon Stopover of US Troops coming and going from the War On Terror and the innovations of US Customs and Immigration at Ireland’s Shannon and Dublin Airports. We are asking Congress to thank Ireland with an E3 as it had Australia in 2005. In this way, with 10,500 annual renewable visas, a secure and legal path to immigration will be restored, preventing the need for Irish people to seek less desirable methods to escape the current economic hardships in Ireland and strengthen the bond between our two nations.

Seamus Boyle AOH National President & Dan Dennehy AOH Immigration Chairman

How Long Must We Hear This?

On several occasions in the past, we have denounced revisionists who alter the presentation of history to suit their own purposes.  Equally provocative is anything that tends to support the Divide and Conquer tactics originated by the Brits ages ago to separate the Irish into quarreling communities to keep them from uniting against the Crown.  No less culpable are those who unwittingly propagate such hypothetical theories without first determining the accuracy of their content.  Their intentions may not be as malicious, but the results are certainly no less damaging.

One recent example was televised by the Smithsonian Institute as a 2-part documentary entitled ‘Born Fighting’ narrated by Senator James Webb from his book of the same name.  This documentary corroborates the Scots-Irish myth that the settlers who came to Ulster in the 1600s at the behest of the Crown were a different people than those they were sent to replace when, in fact, they were all Celts.  This is not only verified by recent DNA studies, but by many authorities as far back as the scholar, Venerable Bede, who earned the title “The Father of English History”.  In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede wrote of Scots who came from their original homeland in Ireland to a new domain in northwestern Britain in the 6th and 7th centuries and it started even earlier.

By the time Irish chieftain Fergus MacErc moved the seat of his clan from Antrim across the 12-mile stretch of the North Channel to Argyll in 498 AD, the Irish had been settling the northern part of the island of Britain for 100 years.  Called Scotti by the Romans, they even gave their name to the country.  And, at this point, it should be noted that our Celtic cousins in Alba are called Scots, not Scotch; Scotch is a very fine whiskey that they produce, but by extension, a Scotch-Irish drink would be as undesirable as the Scotch-Irish myth!

History and legend verify the close ties of the Irish on both sides of the Channel from local stories of Finn McCumhall and his Fianna hunting in Scotland’s valley of Glencoe to historic alliances between warriors such as the Irish who traveled to Scotland in support of William Wallace in 1300 and the Gallowglass of Edward, brother of The Bruce, who led a force to Ireland in 1318 to support Irish resistance against the Crown.

The differences that developed between the two branches of the Irish family arose after Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1535 and ecclesiastical ideas became linked to political maneuvering.  The Celts in Scotland fought for the independence of their church from civil control.  Isolation from the outlawed Roman clergy and the growing attraction of Protestant ideas led to provincial councils (1549-59) which acknowledged that new religious concepts were due to the corruption of morals and the profane lewdness of life in churchmen of all ranks.  Thus a difference between the two branches of the great Celtic family was forged in that one remained Catholic while the other became Presbyterian, but they were still part of the same family with similar traits, personalities and conduct.  As powerful and dedicated to freedom as was William Wallace and The Bruce, so too was Brian Boru and Hugh O’Neill. Therefore, defining the two branches as alien is inaccurate and accrediting laudable qualities to one as opposed to the other re-enforces the concept of separate and unequal used to divide and conquer.  Many can point to a close family member who has fallen away from the Church, but they are still family!

In the Smithsonian documentary, Webb shamelessly admits that the Scots took land from the Catholic Irish and offers no logical reason except to say that Con O’Neill ‘handed over’ thousands of acres to the Crown – an oversimplified version of ‘surrender and regrant’.  He then notes that before the American Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Scots-Irish came to America.  Since the entire pre-1600 population of Ulster was less than 40,000 and Professor Nicholas Canny’s highly-praised 2001 book Making Ireland British, documents only 20,000 settlers (English and Scottish) in Ulster by 1650, Webb’s hundreds of thousands must have included some ‘common’ Irish!  The English Historical Review called Canny’s book, Awesome in the scope of its archival research.

Further, in the documentary’s account of the 1641 rising of the displaced Irish against the settlers, Webb refers to the massacre of decent Scottish settlers even though many serious English historians have denounced that account as provocative propaganda intended to inspire public support for an all out war against the original Irish Catholic population of the land they were trying to steal.  He even uses illustrations from the British papers of the time showing Irish rebels cutting open the bellies of pregnant women and swinging infants against a wall to dash out their brains – all of which has been denounced by serious historians as utter fabrications.

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St. Brigid

February 1 is the feast of St. Brigid, often called the Mary of the Gael, and her feast day, along with that of St Patrick, and Our Lady of Knock, are the official holy days of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who gather annually for a Mass in her honor. St. Brigid’s life was a remarkable one, and the places in Ireland, associated with her, are scenes of pilgrimage throughout the year.

Brigid was born in a society ruled by the old Gaelic Order and the Druidic religion. St. Patrick had already reached Ireland, and was in the process of changing all that, but though his message may have reached the court of Dubhtach, the powerful Leinster Chieftain held firm to the old religion. In his religion, one of the most powerful Goddesses was Brid or Brigid, the Goddess of Fire whose manifestations were song and poetry, which the Celts considered the flame of knowledge. Her feast day was the first festival of the year and was held on February 1. It was the beginning of Spring; the working season for farmers and fishermen, and a time of husbanding of animals, and the Celts called on Brid to bless their work, and bonfires were lit in her honor.

Patrick did not condemn the Celts as idolatrous pagans, but explained their druidic customs in Christian terms, and gradually, Bible heroes and Christian saints began to replace the Celtic Gods and Goddesses on the Irish calendar. However, the personalities of some of the Celtic deities was so strong that they could not be replaced; one of these was Brid, and the rites associated with her continued to be practiced each February 1 right into Christian times. But that was soon to change.
At about 453 AD, a child was born out of wedlock between Dubhtach and one of his Christian slaves named Brocessa. The slave girl was sent to a Druid priest in a cabin at the foot of the Cooley Mountains near Dundalk, Co Louth, to have the child. The baby was a healthy girl, which was no great joy to Dubhtach who wanted a son. The mother was sold to a Chieftain in Connaught, and the child was left with the Druid to be raised and educated. The child was named Brigid, perhaps to seek the blessing of the Goddess, for from the very beginning, there were indications that she was special. It was reported that she was born at sunrise, and that the cottage in which she was born burst into flame when she left it.

Brigid grew in beauty, and her love for God’s creatures knew no bounds. After her fosterage, she returned to her father’s house as a slave, although she enjoyed the privileges of family. She was given to solitude, and loved to wander the woods befriending the animals. She was renowned for her generosity, giving much of her father’s wealth to the poor. Many are the stories attributed to this remarkable lady, including her journey on foot from Leinster to Connaught to find her mother, whom she freed from bondage, and returned to the house of Dubhtach.

In keeping with the life planned for her, she became a priestess in service to the Goddess Brid, and eventually high priestess at Cill Dara (the temple of the oak), a sanctuary built from the wood of a tree sacred to the Druids, where a perpetual ritual fire was kept in honor of Brid. The exact circumstance of her conversion to Christianity are unknown, though it is certain that her Christian mother was a guiding influence. Some claim that she personally met St Patrick, which is possible since she was ten years old when he died, but there is no proof of that. Whatever the circumstances, Brigid and her companions in service to Brid, all accepted the Christian faith, and formed Ireland’s first Christian religious community of women. Legend tells that upon her acceptance of her vows, fire appeared above her head. Brigid changed the pagan sanctuary of Cill Dara into a Christian shrine, which gave its name to the present County Kildare. She extinguished the ritual fire of the Druids, and lit a flame dedicated to Christ which was thereafter maintained by her followers until it was doused by the forces of Henry VIII.

Brigid’s wisdom and generosity became legend, and people traveled from all over the country to share her knowledge. Her monastery at Kildare became one of the greatest centers of learning in Europe. She continued her holy and charitable work until her death in 525 AD, when she was laid to rest in a jeweled casket at Cill Dara. In 835, her remains were moved to protect them from Norse invaders, and interred in the same grave that holds the remains of St Patrick and St Columcille at Downpatrick.

So strong was the respect and reverence for this holy lady that she became the patroness of parishes, towns, and counties, not only in Ireland, but all across Europe. During the age of Chivalry, she was so revered as a model for women of every age, that gentlemen, knights, and nobles began the custom of calling their sweethearts, their Brides – a custom that has come down to this very day.

In Ireland, the people likened her to Brid, the ancient Goddess of fire and wisdom – for wasn’t Brigid’s life touched with fire, and as for her wisdom – that was undisputed. She even had a symbol. As the shamrock became associated with St Patrick, a tiny cross made of rushes was linked with St Brigid. Supposedly woven by her to explain the passion of Christ to a dying pagan. Similar crosses are fashioned to this day as a defense against harm, and placed in the rafters of a cottage on the feast day of St Brigid – February 1.

So it was that reverence for this holy child of Ireland grew so strong that she not only eclipsed Brid, for whom she was named, but was given her feast day. And the Irish gladly accepted their new saint, and revere her to this day in place of a forgotten Celtic Goddess.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sadly, there is very little historic evidence – archeological or autobiographical – about this remarkable Saint. There are many ennobling tales written after her passing, glorifying her life, but some of them are conflicting. The Catholic Encyclopedia tried to excuse these inconsistencies by stating, “Viewing the biography of St. Brigid from a critical standpoint we must allow a large margin for the vivid Celtic imagination and the glosses of medieval writers.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia adds that many tales exist which suffer inconsistencies common to such legends, and the only agreement between the various stories is that a girl was born to an Irish king named Dubhtach and that her name was Brigid.

However from the many stories, biographies, lives of the Saints, and other documentation we have researched – both in America and in Kildare – we compiled the beliefs that most often agree between versions, and those that we found to be the most logical. We have presented them in this biography in the hope of increasing devotion to a most inspirational servant of God and a most remarkable daughter of the Gael.