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What would St Brigid make of 2024 Ireland? She wouldn’t know what vibes are, but she’d get the drift

Emer McLysaght: The saint performed Ireland’s first documented abortion and other things the church don’t want you to know about her

Suspend disbelief if you will and picture the scene: a wormhole appears in the space time continuum. A time traveller with a millennium-and-a-half between her life and ours lands just beside Exit 12 on the N7 in Kildare. She is Brigid, pagan goddess or Christian saint, or both? “I know this place,” she breathes, closing her eyes and almost getting flattened by a JJ Kavanagh bus transporting students down home for the new February public holiday weekend. She gathers her cloak and instinctively heads southwest towards Kildare town.

For centuries, the feast of St Brigid has coincided with Imbolc, the Celtic celebration marking the end of winter. This tracks, given that Brigid has also represented both a pagan deity and an icon of Catholicism. Somewhere along the line the lores of the folk goddess Brigit and Brigid of Kildare have melded. If Brigid, thought to have died 1,500 years ago this year, was suddenly catapulted to 2024, what would she make of us? How might she receive her legacy, and how would our society and customs blow her mind?

Arriving at St Brigid’s Parish Church in Kildare town she might feel a little thrill at seeing her name in lights, as it were. Inside she might be a little unsettled to see a piece of her own jawbone displayed as a shrine. Her timing is impeccable, actually, as it was just last weekend that a procession led by three children on horseback returned this relic of St Brigid to the parish church in Kildare town. The children represented three knights who were said to have taken the piece of St Brigid’s skull to Portugal during Henry VII’s reign. Brigid, a woman associated with healing and wisdom, might recognise that relics can bring comfort and hope to believers. “Still though,” she mutters, “bit morbid”.

At the event, Brigid’s tattered leather booties are replaced with a pair of Uggs and her freezing feet have never felt comfort like it

Still reeling from being faced with her mortality, Brigid is disappointed to see no signs of priestesses in the church. In her day, she was the Bishop of Kildare and welcomed both men and women into her monastery. Historians believe that she was able to do this because Ireland was still quite removed from the papacy and the Catholic Church. This distance likely also fuelled her connection with her spiritual Pagan sister Brigit and her followers. “Surely though,” Brigid muses as she leaves the church, “women rule the world now?”


On the street, she bumps into a young woman. “Your cloak is absolutely deadly,” the woman enthuses. “Can I put you on my Instagram?” Here Brigid cowers but then marvels as the young woman performs a miracle on what she refers to as a “phone”. She recreates an image of Brigid and with the dash of a finger applies something called a “no makeup makeup filter”. Truly a miracle for a woman from the 5th century who’s never even heard of concealer. Of course, Brigid is no stranger to miracles. She famously blessed a wild boar and tamed it there and then. She turned water into ale for some lepers. What a legend. She’s also credited with performing the first recorded abortion in Ireland, spiriting away a foetus from the womb of a woman who broke her vow of virginity. Hopefully, Brigid won’t find out that through the centuries the church sanitised her miracles and her role as bishop. Not after travelling 1,500 years through the wormhole. She’s been through enough.

The young woman asks Brigid her name and upon learning it exclaims: “No way! I’m on my way to an Imbolc celebration. Come with! You’ll be the guest of honour.” She brushes off Brigid’s protests that they’ve been mixing her up with Brigit for millennia. “Brigid is Brigit,” she states. “You’re one of us.”

At the event, Brigid’s tattered leather booties are replaced with a pair of Uggs and her freezing feet have never felt comfort like it. She notices some people making crosses out of reeds and is delighted. Something that reminds her of home, at last. “The nuns taught us at school,” a woman tells her. “It’s giving St Brigid’s Day vibes but also feels like it belongs to Imbolc, you know?”. Brigid doesn’t know what vibes are, but she gets the drift. She listens to a speech about Brigid the saint and Brigit the ancient pagan goddess and how both are emblems of feminine spirituality and empowerment. A glass of pinot grigio is pressed into her hand and as she takes her first sip she decides she can’t go back to 5th century wine. “I assume there are some lodgings I could take?” she asks. The women laugh and laugh and laugh. Good one Brigid.