By Pat McDermott
Ireland abounds with stone monuments built by prehistoric tribes to help them divide the year into seasons: Samhain, November 1, the start of winter; Beltane, May 1, the first day of summer; Lughnasa, August 1, the beginning of autumn; and, Imbolc, February 1, the glorious arrival of spring.
The Newgrange passage tomb is famous for its roof box, which allows sunlight to penetrate its interior chamber during the winter solstice. A Neolithic mound in County Sligo’s Carrowkeel cemetery has a similar box that lets light in during the summer solstice. On the Hill of Tara, sunshine illuminates the chamber inside the Mound of the Hostages on both Samhain and Imbolc.
Brigid, said to be the daughter of a druid, supposedly fed on the milk of Otherworld cows, a rumor that gave her dual authority over both Christian and pagan ways. A generous woman, she fed the poor and tended both cattle and land, and is often portrayed with a cow at her feet. She became a nun and founded convents and monasteries. Of the many legends associated with her, my favorite is her acquisition of the land on which she built her most famous monastery.
In 470, Brigid petitioned the King of Leinster for some prime property. Thinking himself clever, the king said he would give her as much land as her shawl could cover. Brigid took off her shawl to measure the land, giving each of the four nuns with her a corner of the cloak. The women ran north, south, east, and west, and the shawl stretched to cover acres of land. Her monastery, built near a huge oak tree, became known as Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak. Cill Dara is now the Town of Kildare.
Whether goddess or saint, Brigid symbolizes the renewal of life and the hope of abundance, and Christians and pagans alike still honor her on her day.