Well now, here it is at last. Our first St Brigid’s Day public holiday. Brigid, Brigit, Bridget, Bríd, Bridie: whatever we call her, she was some woman, and her day, Lá Fhéile Bríde, or Imbolc, on February 1st has long heralded renewal and the traditional start of spring in Ireland.
Brigid is one of our three patron saints, along with the Patrick and Colmcille. A powerful woman, it’s taken centuries to create a public holiday in her honour. But finally, to break the bleakness of winter, we have Brigid’s Day, a public holiday on February 6th (as February 1st falls on a Wednesday this year).
From Louth and based in Kildare, St Brigid was headstrong and holy, accomplished and multitalented. Born around AD 450, she had a long, productive and eventful life. She set up monasteries around Ireland, of which Kildare was one of the largest, with a hospital, scriptorium and farm. As Abbess of Kildare she managed monastery farms and thousands of nuns. She was ordained bishop. She was a master brewer of ale. The early Christian saint is seen as an early feminist, and has long been inspirational.
“She held more power in the Catholic church than any woman before or since”, says Una O’Hagan, who co-wrote The Book of St Brigid with her late husband Colm Keane. It paints a picture of a woman combining humanity and humility with great power.
The decision to make a public holiday for Brigid follows a three-year campaign by Herstory, founded by Melanie Lynch in 2016 to tell the stories of modern, historic and mythic women. Its annual Herstory Light Show has illuminated landmarks and sacred sites honouring women on Brigid’s Day since 2017. Lynch lauds the Ireland’s first public holiday “named in honour of a woman: Brigid, our matron St and Celtic Goddess.
Herstory is every woman’s story, and we hope this landmark moment for Mná na hÉireann will inspire our diaspora worldwide and other countries to join Ireland in celebrating women and girls as we work towards equality for all. On the first day of spring, may we come together in the spirit of the Celtic tradition to plant new seeds for our shared future, and a healthy Mother Earth.”
From Wednesday and into the long weekend, plenty of events are lined up, here and around the world, from the serious to the anarchic; check locally to see what’s on, and here are just some of them.
Finally out of the shadows of Patrick and his showy snake-banishing, let’s hear it for Brigid!
Herstory light shows
Long-time Brigid champions Herstory sparks Brigid’s Day with light shows in Galway, Roscommon and Kildare, illuminating landmarks honouring Brigid and mná na hÉireann. Herstory invited artists to create lluminations inspired by Brigid, goddess and saint, and the modern women embodying her qualities and passions as environmentalist, feminist, Pride icon, healer, pioneer, human rights activist, goddess of the arts, alchemist and wisdom weaver.
The light show was all over Galway city last night and tonight, Saturday, the light show is at National Famine Museum, Strokestown House, Roscommon from 5.30pm as part of its Brigid’s Awakening Festival.
On St Brigid’s Eve, January 31st the light show is in Brigid’s home territory, Kildare: at the Potato Market Naas 5.30-10pm, with firedancers (7.30-8.30pm); Wonderful Barn, Leixlip 5.30-6.30pm, with firedancers; Maynooth Castle 7.30-8.30pm, and Athy Library 10-11.30pm.
Herstory’s new Peace Heroines exhibition highlights women’s pivotal role in the Northern peace process in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement’s 25th anniversary this April. It’s at London’s Irish Embassy on February 1st, then Ambassador Geraldine Nason Byrne launches it at the US Congress on February 8th, before moving to UN HQ in New York March 27th-April 7th. The exhibition is also now at the Derry Tower Museum, until March 24th. herstory.ie
Brigid 1500, Co Kildare
A year of events commemorating St Brigid’s life and legacy, before the 1,500th anniversary of her death next year. Led by Kildare County Council with a committee of experts, it aims for a meaningful legacy for a diverse contemporary audience, engaging with values Brigid championed, including faith and spirituality, biodiversity and sustainability, arts and culture, social justice, peace, hospitality and education.
Events around Brigid’s Day include a Fire & Light Walk from Kildare Town Square (February 4th, 6pm); lit-up sites and buildings across Kildare and beyond and others hosting light illustrations (January 31st, February 1st); Eimear Quinn concert, February 5th at St Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare town; Féile Bríde Art Exhibition of The Book of Kildare project by artist and calligrapher Josephine Hardiman (Kildare Library until end of February); Co Kildare libraries host craft workshops, poetry readings, children’s storytimes; plus a school lesson plan, school tree planting and a Brigid’s Day GAA Blitz for sixth class. brigid1500.ie
Brigid: Dublin city celebrating women
Citywide activities from Dublin City Council, many of them free, from February 1st to Monday 6th. Highlights include: authors Elaine Farrell and Leanne McCormick discussing the dark side of life as an Irish woman emigrant and their book Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women.
Women Walk the City, a series of walking tours based on the stories and experiences of Dublin women past and present, including forager-herbalist Feebee Foran, artist-illustrator Eva Kelly, and teacher-psychotherapist Dr Karen Ward; illustration and light projection created by Irish illustrator Bronagh Lee at Barnardo’s Square after dark, including aerial performance on February 5th inspired by Lee’s artwork with music by composer Ellen King (aka ELLL); Imbolc Village (Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, February 5th, 12-4pm), celebrating the spirit of Celtic goddess Brigid with activities for all ages, including body-painting workshop, blacksmithing, a wise women’s weaving circle, and Imbolc Tarot reading; Stories of Valour and Home, the work of 10 women artists and poetry exploring themes of shelter, safety, and support, and the idea of knowing what is worth defending, on Living Canvas’s large outdoor screen at Wilton Park (February 1st-6th); craft workshops and meetups including Create Your Own Boob Pots (clay-making) or the Dublin Sewcial Club “stitch and bitch”. dublin.ie/brigid
Brigid’s Awakening Festival, Strokestown Park, Co Roscommon (January 28th-February 5th). Including a Herstory Salon, shadow puppetry, ceremony at the illuminated Brigid’s Cross on Tarmonbarry Bridge, performance of Briget’s Cloak, talks, an exhibition, and Candlelit Tales. strokestownpark.ie
Brigid’s Garden, Roscahill, Co Galway. The striking Celtic garden 20 minutes north of Galway city hosts a fireside exploration and stories of Brigid, songs and guided meditation (remote online January 29th; in-person February 6th) plus a free Brigid’s Cross or Brídeog workshops on Monday 6th. brigidsgarden.ie
Herself: A large-scale public projection of filmed portraits of individual women, layered with visuals representing their “Brigid” qualities. Artists Shona Macgillivray and Jill Beardsworth collaborate with local community groups. Gort courthouse, Co Galway, February 4th at dusk. creativeireland.gov.ie
Wild Women: Discussion about the unconventional and unruly women who followed in Brigid’s footsteps and broke the mould, chaired by Flor MacCarthy with Ailbhe Smyth, Senator Eileen Flynn, Sarah Webb, Justine McCarthy, Martina Devlin and Lise-Ann McLaughlin. Dún Laoghaire Lexicon, January 31st, 6pm. libraries.dlrcoco.ie
Brigid of Ireland, Icon for Today: Woman Spirit Ireland and TCD Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies seminar digging into Brigid’s living traditions; historical Brigid and her successors; her depictions in artwork, ancient and modern, along with the artefacts used in Imbolc rituals. Plus poetry, music, Brigid crosses and Brídógs. (Ed Burke Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, January 28th). eventbrite.ie
Brigid’s Flamin’ – The Wild Geeze & guests: Evening cabaret with comedy duo Bridget Larkin and burlesque chanteuse Miss Lavelle hosting music, comedy and burlesque from their favourite Brigid-enriched performers. The Fumbally, Dublin 8, February 5th. thefumbally.ie
St Brigid Anniversary Art Project: Display of mixed media art from Creative Ireland project, artist Shauna Swords working with students from St Brigid’s Special School in Dundalk. creativeireland.gov.ie
Weaving a Crosóg Bride (St Brigid’s Cross) with weaver Brendan Farren, Eden Place Arts Centre, Derry, January 31st at 12pm.
Féile na mBan: This is a new festival celebrating women in art, history, literature and music. Female artists and creatives perform and host workshops and boot camps, an art exhibition, a craft market and a movie screening. Many of the events are free. The opening concert will be Irish singer-songwriter Susan O’Neill. Bundoran, Co Donegal, February 3rd-6th. feilenamban.com
Rebel Irishwomen: A bank holiday concert inspired by the landmark Claddagh Records release of Rebel Irishwomen, which brought listeners into the personal experiences, recollections and songs of three women associated with the 1916 Rising; Helena Molony, Maud Gonne McBride and Kathleen Behan. The concert is of songs and spoken work reinterpreted by artists vocal group Landless, folk star Niamh Bury and historian Dr Mary McAuliffe. National Concert Hall, John Field Room, Sunday, February 5th at 3pm. nch.ie
Sliabhnamban Brigid’s Cloak: This community collaboration art project and ritual procession features a cloak of over 30sq m created by artist Theresia Guschlbauer with contributions from more than 120 women. A re-imagined public ritual and textile project inspired by the story of the cloak being stretched to cover the fields claimed from the King of Leinster on which St Brigid built her first monastery. Unveiling in a lantern-lit ritual procession, with musical accompaniment through Clonmel. Sunday, February 5th at 5pm. 2candoarts.ie
Irish Harp concert: Cruit Éireann (Harp Ireland) and Birr Festival of Music join forces for an Irish harp concert to mark Lá Fhéile Bríde and Imbolc. With harpers Siobhán Armstrong on Early Irish Harp, Triona Marshall on Irish Harp with composer and accordionist Martin Tourish, plus over 50 young harpers from all over Ireland. Music Generation Harp Collective will be performing Cláirseoireacht, composed by Sligo-based harper-composer Michael Rooney. St Brendan’s Church of Ireland, Birr. Sunday, February 12th at 7.30pm. birrtheatre.com
Brigid Unfolding: Exhibition by Sult Artists’ collective of paintings, prints and sculpture celebrating the life and lore of Brigid of Kildare, as part of Brigid 1500. No 8 Gallery, Academy St, Kildare town, January 31st-February 28th. sultartists.com, brigid1500.ie
StandStrong Against Domestic Abuse: This a new annual event created by Allianz and Women’s Aid celebrating strong women and celebrating St Brigid. There will be yoga class beginning with the warrior pose to show solidarity with women subjected to domestic abuse. All funds raised will go to Women’s Aid. February 6th at 11am, Bray Seafront. Tickets here, standstrong.ie
Dabhach Bhríde: Pop-up exhibition by Co Clare-based artists, Frances Bermingham and Mary Fahy, celebrating local history and traditions stemming from the local St. Bridget’s Well in Liscannor, Dabhach Bhríde. The Courthouse Gallery & Studios, Ennistymon, Co Clare, showing until Saturday, February 4th. thecourthousegallery.com
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork programme includes a St Brigid’s Day tour of the collection exploring works themed around women, nature and mythology, as well as Regina Carbayo’s portrait of Kate O’Brien. crawfordartgallery.ie
St Brigid’s Day EU50 Lecture: Síofra O’Leary, President of the European Court of Human Rights, will deliver the second lecture in the Department of Foreign Affairs EU50 lecture series. Wednesday, February 1st, 6pm. You can also access the lecture through the live-stream.
Fragments: Lost Stories of Ancient Women: The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin presents its annual lecture in celebration of St Brigid’s Day by Dr Sara Parks who will joining online from Nova Scotia, Canada where she is assistant professor of religious studies at St Francis Xavier University. Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 at 6pm. chesterbeatty.ie
Irish Gothic: A retrospective by renowned Irish artist Patricia Hurl at IMMA. The first in a series of solo exhibitions this year at IMMA focusing on Irish and international women artists. February 10th – May 21st. imma.ie
Bonnets, Bandoliers and Ballot Papers: An insight into the changing role of women during the transformational first decades of the 20th century through the lens of artefacts in the National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks collection. Museum.ie
Mná100: A key part of the Decade of Centenaries programme, the initiative partnered with the Department of Foreign Affairs Irish Embassy in Delhi, India to produce a short film piece on the life of Roscommon woman Margaret Cousins, who worked for suffrage, the rights of women, and gender equality in Ireland and in India. mna100.ie
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum’s Brigid’s Day programme: Brigid’s Stories is an interactive storytelling session utilising historical re-enactment and imaginative storytelling to bring to life stories from Irish history Brigid’s Brideog-making workshop where you can create your very own Brideog doll on February 6th at 10-12pm in addition to the exhibition of the Common Threads textile project assembled by the Irish Patchwork Society. epicchq.com
St Brigids Well: Exhibition of contemporary art works by 97 Irish women artists, themed around a poem by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. Hamilton Gallery, Sligo. Official opening on Saturday, February 4th at 12pm. hamiltongallery.ie
St Dymphna, the Tragedy of an Irish Princess: Exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland. January 28th-May 28th. nationalgallery.ie
Royal Irish Academy hosts Women in Leadership Book Launch: Work Life – Lessons from leaders by Claire O’Connell Wednesday, February 1st at 6pm. ria.ie
Other events celebrating Brigid, and achievements of Irish women are in the National Cultural Institutions. There are community-based events organised by the local authorities as part of their Culture and Creativity Strategies under Creative Ireland, including county councils in Galway, Kerry, Louth, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary and Kildare hosting festivals, performances, workshops, lectures and light shows. Check locally and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has gathered many Brigid themed events at https://www.ireland.ie/en/
Brigid goes international
Irish embassies and consulates are leading an impressive range of celebrations around the world.
The London embassy was ahead of the curve with Brigid, hosting events since 2018, and this year on February 1st celebrates with discussions on women and peace; literature; diversity and inclusion; poetry and music. It’s part of a wider St Brigid’s Festival in Britain in the Consulate network, the Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith, London Irish Centre, and Irish Film London.
Berlin’s Brigidsfest: The Authors are Present is a three-day festival of woman creativity in written and spoken word. Plus Brussels has networking, Budapest exhibits contemporary art, Helsinki explores Women Peace and Security, and Madrid has theatre and Irish dancing.
Herstory’s Peace Heroines exhibition is at the US Congress, Women of Extraordinary Ability at the Irish Consulate New York highlights women breaking gendered stereotypes, Atlanta marks Women in Creativity and Cultural Industry, and Vancouver has a Brigid festival.
Lá Fhéile Bríde is celebrated across four States and Territories and seven cities in Australia. Wellington embassy’s Agents of Change reflects on the legacy, influence and role of women and girls. More details of St Brigid’s Day events across the globeinternationally on Ireland.ie.