I had a row with the General about Brigid.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he declared. “Promoting that religious nonsense.”
“I’m a conservative,” I replied. “I live as if there were angels at every corner. I’m not a clock.”
“Of course you’re not a clock; but a bank holiday honouring a Christian saint is retrogressive,” he declared.
“On the 1st of February,” I told him, “I light a candle. And in the candle I see the flame of the sun, and I visualise that same flame inside my heart and I go about the world as if I were a flame. When I drink from a holy well I see light shimmering on the surface like a flame.”
But he wasn’t impressed by that romantic spiel.
“Creating a bank holiday in honour of some holy biddy who never existed is a farce,” he roared, causing people in the foyer to turn and stare. I thought that would be the end of it but he wouldn’t let it go.
“What exactly do you believe about her?” he wondered.
So I let rip with all the fabulous magical realism I could muster.
“Okay,” I said, “there must have been someone who became the saint. Even if she was of no importance. A cipher in the cosmos, who ended up as a skull on some altar in Spain, a bone in the fire of reforming zealots who burned her body; but at least there had to be some historical person who became the icon.”
Isn’t it bad enough having St Patrick’s Day around our necks like an albatross without marking out another day for yet another Christian saint
“So what?” he replied.
“So the pagan icon is the real Brigid,” I declared. “She swallowed two thousand years of Christian theology like a can of buttermilk and still remains what she always was; a mythic colossus straddling mountains.
“Her feet moving through the lakes and her hair like a flock of birds singing to heaven when she stretches her belly on the slopes of the Cooley mountains for a midday snooze. She can step across Lough Neagh with one leap, or drink and belch like a bishop but she is the daughter of a druid and a teacher of poets.”
“You’re describing a cartoon,” he sneered. “It has no bearing on reality.”
“Au contraire,” I retorted, “an icon is a lens through which we experience reality.”
“You’re talking horse manure,” he snorted with unbecoming rustic ferocity.
“I wait for her in winter,” I confessed. “When the sun dies and darkness covers the mountains and the snow falls on high ground. I wait for her in the frosted garden. When January ice traps me in endless melancholy behind closed doors I look out and wait. And then in February – there she is!”
“Are you on drugs,” the General wondered but I assured him that the crooked smoke of a spliff never wafted up into my precious nostrils.
“She is the light that reaches into the grave of winter,” I declared in rhapsodic tones. “And yet today the dead earth is revived by sunbeams whereon she hangs her cloak.”
“I’m leaving,” he hissed.
“The hint of a primrose on the ditch or juice in the bark of a young sapling is her signature.”
“That’s just new age sentimentality,” he insisted. “There’s no evidence for her existence.”
“How do you see the wind?” I wondered.
“I don’t,” he replied.
It was never more obvious that the poor General was not entirely au fait with modern physics
“You do,” I argued. “You see it in the bending bush. And Brigid is like the wind. She walks in the crevice of the mountain, along the hedgerows and through the fields. Her body shimmers beneath the trees.”
“Isn’t it bad enough having St Patrick’s Day around our necks like an albatross,” he argued. “Without marking out another day for yet another Christian saint.”
“But I’m trying to tell you she’s not Christian,” I replied. “We must embrace the Celtic Icon. Not to mention quantum physics.”
“What has quantum physics got to do with anything?”
I had him cornered. It was never more obvious that the poor General was not entirely au fait with modern physics. Not that I know much about quantum physics either, but I love the notion that all matter is akin to frozen light. And that the light is not indifferent. We are entangled in it’s love as it loosens and thaws and nourishes us.
“So Brigid’s mythic presence is an appropriate icon,” I concluded, “not just for spring, but for this new scientific age.”
He rose to leave.
“You’re definitely on drugs,” he muttered.
But I let it pass. Because you just can’t please everyone when it comes to a new bank holiday.
[ St Brigid the ‘kick-ass warrior poet and goddess’: Siobhán McSweeney finds a very Irish superhero ]