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. 

New York News

Each August 21st on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Knock, a Mass is celebrated at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Middletown, New York. A crowning of Our Lady follows the Mass.  The following organizations participated in the celebration: Orange County Divisions 1, 3 and 4; Orange County Ladies Divisions 4 and 5 and the Orange County Irish American Society of Middletown Irish Heritage Festival.  Orange County AOH Div. 4 is named in honor of Father Emanuel Hourihan, O.Carm., the priest who was instrumental in bringing the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock to the site.

STATE PRESIDENT HONORED.

Charles “Chip” McLean, the popular president of the New York State AOH was honored at a testimonial dinner in his honor at the luxurious Staaten on Staten Island, New York.  Mike McCormack was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening and was his usual happy self as he introduced the County, State and National dignitaries who came to salute New York State’s President.  Past NY President, Mat Nelligan was also the recipient of the fifth annual Burns Hayes Award which was presented at the Dinner.  The Burns Hayes Award, named for two beloved pasta NY State Presidents, is the highest honor that the NY State Board can bestow.  Previous recipients have been Rev John Ahern, Tom McNabb, Mike McCormack and John Hennessy.

Frank Fox Division Holds Annual Collection

The AOH Frank Fox Div 16 and the Ladies AOH Div 16 are pleased to announce that their annual collection for Rosary Hill Cancer Center in Hawthorne and Hospice Care (Visiting Nurse Association) of Westchester/ Putnam will be taking place during the fall at area churches.  Since 1992 AOH Div 16 has donated over $168,975 to these two and other community organizations in northern Westchester County.  The AOH is deeply grateful to all who help support our collection. Div 16 meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. For further information or an application contact President William McCormack at email-wfmccormack@optonline.net. or Chairwoman Grace Murphy at 914-218-8874 or Chairman James McHugh at 914-232-3766.

Myles Scully Division 1 Yonkers supports Cancer Benefit for Yonkers Police Sergeant

The officers and members of the Myles Scully Div 1 of Yonkers attended a benefit for Yonkers Police Sergeant Roy McLauglin, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer.  The Division presented the organizers of the event with a $4,000 pledge of support.  The “10-13” Event (Officer Needs Assistance) was attended by thousands of supporters from across the community.  The all day event showcased live music, a sports memorabilia auction, and a performance by the Pipes and Drums of the Police Police Department, is the father of 4 young children and is facing ever increasing medical expenses as he fights this terrible disease.  “We were honored to help support Sergeant McLaughlin as he goes Emerald Society of Westchester County.  Money was also being raised to support brain cancer awareness, thru the sale of specially colored wristbands.  Sergeant McLaughlin, a 12 year member of the Yonkers through a very difficult time in his life” said Div 1 President, Kevin Ellis.  “We are just a small part of a much larger community effort to see him get through this.” The event was co-sponsored by the Yonkers Police Benevolent Association and the Yonkers Captains, Lieutenants, and Sergeants Association.  For more information or to make a donation, please contact Tom Phelan at (914) 525-2834.

Meredith McLaughlin, sister of Yonkers Police Sergeant Roy McLaughlin (center), with Division President Kevin Ellis and members of Division 1 Yonkers

New York State AOH Respects Life at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Members of the NYS AOH attended the annual Respect Life Mass held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on October 3rd, 2010.  NYS President Charles McLean and LAOH State President Meg Redling led the large contingent of Hibernians up the center aisle and were warmly greeted by Archbishop Timothy Dolan.  The large group consisted of members from all five boroughs of New York City, as well as from the surrounding suburbs.  In his homily, Archbishop Dolan reminded the congregation that the Right to Life was not only a right proclaimed by God, but is also a founding principle of the United States. He said “God saw a reign of life, not destruction; a kingdom of life, not extinction; a culture of life, not of death; that’s God’s vision”.  He also assured the crowd that the culture of life will ultimately prevail.  The mass was co-sponsored by the AOH and the Sisters of Life, a religious order founded in 1991 by the late John Cardinal O’Connor for the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life.

Pictured (L – R) Tom Bierne (NY County Pres.), Meg Redling (LAOH State Pres.), Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, Charles McLean (NYS Pres.), James Burke (NYS Secretary), John Pesce (Florida State Organizer), John Ellis, and John Hyland (Bronx County Board)

John Francis O'Rourke former five-term President of Division 19, Kings County, New York, married Joyce Gilroy of Staten Island on Sept. 11th, 2010 on Staten Island at the Hilton Gardens Hotel.

Nassau County Supporting Wounded Warriors

On Saturday, September 11th, Division 11th of Hicksville held its annual golf outing at the Rockhill Country Club in Manorville, Suffolk County.  Members of Division 11, those who were golfing and others assembled for some shared words and a moment of silence to remember the heroes who had fought and died in the 9-11 attacks. “Amazing Grace” played by Bob McCann of Div 15 on the bagpipes broke the morning air in tribute.  At the 10th hole, memorial and sponsor signs were set up for the golfers to pause at and reflect upon before teeing off. For the fourth year in a row, part of the proceeds from this event was set aside to be donated to the Wounded Warriors Project.  Division President Phil Baumgartner thanked all those who planned and participated in this annual event. Joseph Barry Council 2520 of the Knights of Columbus for the use of their facility, Recorder and Past President Harry Deegan for running this fundraising event, Bill Jankowski and his wife Carol for all of their golf event experience that helped make the day a success, the Kennedy brothers, Dan and Tom for cooking, John Kilganon, our bartender, Vice President and Past President Billy McGough for his assistance, and for all the golfers and sign sponsors for their support in helping Division 11 meet its goal in regards to raising money for the Wounded Warriors Project. To find out more information about this organization, click onto: WWW.WOUNDEDWARRIORSPROJECT.ORG

Nassau County holds 38th Annual Feis

Nassau County held its 38th Annual Feis and Irish Festival on September 21st at Molloy College in Rockville Centre. In addition to dancing, band, music, singing, art and soda bread contests, the Feis honored Irish Examiner Publisher Paddy McCarthy for his efforts of spreading Irish culture. Almost 2000 people attended this year’s Feis, which was considered one of the best put on in the county.

Nassau County President Mike Byrne introduces Paddy McCarthy with Nassau County Vice President and Feis Chairman Sean O’Rourke on the left and LAOH Nassau County President Mary Jo Walsh on the right. (Photo by John O’Connell)

Long Beach Irish Day

Over 30,000 people attended the 2010 Long Beach Irish Day and Festival, held on October 2nd in Nassau County, NY. Summerlike weather in early fall, helped the turnout as the streets were lined with green and vendors selling food and Irish memorabilia. The Day was sponsored by St. Brendan the Navigator Div 17 in Long Beach with representation from National, State, and County officers.

Members of the AOH get ready for the Long Beach Parade. (L to R) Parade Chairman Mike Sullivan, John King, NYS Publicity Chair John O’Connell, Joe Gleason, Hibernian Digest Online Editor Joe McDonald, Division 17 Jr. Past President Andy Healey, NYS President Chip McLean, NYS FFAI Chair Tim Myles, and Rich Hennessey.

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FFAI October fundraiser held at O’Reilly’s in New York City

Pictured (L – R) are FFAI Chair – Sean Pender, Nat’l Director Jere Cole, and Immigration Chair Dan Dennehy

Pictured (L – R) are Vince Tyer (Pearl River Pres.) Dermot Moore (Rockland Co. Pres.) Jim Burke (NYS Sec.) Jack Ryan (NYS VA)

Members of the AOH get ready for the Long Beach Parade. (L to R) Parade Chairman Mike Sullivan, John King, NYS Publicity Chair John O’Connell, Joe Gleason, Hibernian Digest Online Editor Joe McDonald, Division 17 Jr. Past President Andy Healey, NYS President Chip McLean, NYS FFAI Chair Tim Myles, and Rich Hennessey.

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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.