January 30, 2006


Denis Murphy's article on St. Brigid of Kildare from Volume I of the Kildare Archaeological Journal.

The Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society (J.K.A.S.) Vol. I, (Dublin, 1891-1895), pp. 169-176.
THE name Brígíd, brigid [in old Irish in text] in Irish, as we learn from Cormac Mac Cullenan’s ancient Glossary of the Irish tongue, was given to the goddess of poetry in ancient times. Others will have it to mean a fiery dart. So much for the name.
Her manner of life is summed up briefly in the Martyrology of Tallaght,which says, “Brigid was following the manners and the life which holy Mary, mother of Jesus, had.” And the Martyrology of Donegal,after quoting this passage, goes on to say: “It was this Brigid too that did not take her mind or her attention from the Lord for the space of one hour at any time, but was constantly mentioning Him and ever thinking of Him, as is evident in her own Life and in the Life of St. Brendan of Clonfert. She was very hospitable and very charitable to guests and to needy people. She was humble, and attended to the herding of sheep and early rising, as her Life proves, and as Cuimin of Condure states. Thus he says:-
“The blessed Brigid loved
Constant piety, which was not prescribed,
Sheep-herding and early rising,
Hospitality towards men of virtues.”
She spent seventy-four years diligently serving the Lord, per­forming signs and miracles, curing every disease and sickness in general, until she yielded up her spirit.”
Whosoever wishes to know in greater detail the life of this Saint will find it in the great work of Fr. John Colgan. He was of the Franciscan order, the same which had convents at Clane, Kildare, Castledermot, and in several other places of this county, as well as in nearly every other county in Ireland, numbering in all about sixty in the middle of the 16th century. This great man, not being able, for reasons which I need not enter into here, to find at home the education which he needed, went in search of it to Spain. The greater part of his life was passed in the Franciscan College of Louvain, founded in 1609 by the generosity of Philip III., and the Archdukes Albert and Isabella. There from 1626 to 1658, the year of his death, he devoted himself to bringing together and illustrating the Lives of Irish saints. He intended his work to extend over six folio volumes. Unhappily, he lived to complete only two of these—one the Lives of the Irish saints whose feast days occur in the three first months of the year, and another volume, comprising the Lives of three patrons of Ireland, Patrick, Colum­cille, and Brigid. Of the value set on these books at the present day we may judge from the fact that Dr. Reeves’ copy of the first fetched, at a sale held a few weeks since in Dublin, £31; and the other volume was bought a year or two ago from a Dublin bookseller for £18, and by a lawyer too, who, I am sure, knew well what he was about and thought his invest­ment a safe one.
Of that second volume, containing the Lives of the three patrons, the last of the three parts is taken up with the history of St. Brigid, and this is the storehouse in which those who write of her find ample materials. It extends from p. 513 to p. 649. It bears the title: The various Acts of St. Brigid, the Virgin, Abbess of Kildare, founder of the Brigittine Order, and common patron of all Ireland. Now these Acts comprise six different Lives of the saints, all of them ancient, some of them from very remote times.
The first of them is contained in a hymn in very ancient Irish, written by St. Broegan Claen, abbot of Rosturk, in Ossory, on “The Titles and Miracles of the Saint.” Side by side with the Irish hymn Colgan gives a Latin translation. As is the custom in such Irish works of ancient date, it is prefaced by a few lines telling when, where, and why it was written. “The place,” it says, “in which this hymn was composed was Slieve Bloom, or Cluan St. Maedog, and it was composed in the time of Lughaidh, son of Leoghaire, king of Ireland, when Aelider, son of Dunlang, was king of Leinster; and the reason of its being composed was that Ultan of Ardbraccan asked Broegan to describe in verse the acts and virtues of Brigid. It begins thus:—
“ Brigid did not love the pride of life.”
And it goes on:—
          “She was not querulous, not evil-minded;
She did not love fierce wrangling such as women practise,
She was not a venemous [venomous – sic] serpent or untruthful,
Nor did she sell the Son of God for things that fade.
She was not harsh to strangers,
She used to treat the wretched lepers kindly;
She built her dwelling on the plain
Which was frequented by vast crowds after her death.
There are two holy virgins in heaven,
Mary and holy Brigid;
May they protect me by their mighty help.”
And so for 53 stanzas of four lines each. Some think this Life was written so far back as the sixth century. If it was written at the suggestion of St. Ultan, we must take it to be a century later, i. e. eleven or twelve hundred years ago.
The second Life is by Cogitosus. It is in Latin prose. Most probably he was a monk of the monastery of Kildare that was under the rule of St. Brigid in ancient times, for he describes, in great detail, the architecture, ornaments, and arrangements of the church, as if lie had it before his eyes every day. From his omitting all mention of the ravages of the Danes and of some of the Irish chiefs in the early part of the ninth century, it has been correctly inferred that he wrote before 835, the year when the foreigners first plundered Kildare. “Cilldara,” say the Annals of the Four Masters, “was plundered by the foreigners of Inver Dea, i.e. Wicklow, and half the church was burned by them.” Cogitosus says, “Kildare was a sanctuary, or place of refuge, where there could be no danger of the attack of an enemy.” The Life begins thus: “You oblige me, brethren, to make an attempt to set down in writing the virtues and deeds of Brigid of holy and blessed memory, as if I were one of the learned. The burthen you lay on me, lowly and weak as I am, ignorant too of the niceties of language, is to tell in a fitting way of her who is the head of nearly all the churches of Ireland, and the summit towering above all the monasteries of the Scoti; whose power extends over the whole of Ireland, stretching from sea to sea; the abbess who dwells in the plain of the Liffey, whom all the abbesses of the Scoti venerate.” And he ends thus: “I ask pardon from the brethren, and from all who may read this, for, urged on by obedience, not sup­ported by any excellence of learning, I have traversed this vast ocean of the virtues of St. Brigid, one to be dreaded even by the bravest men.” This Life is published in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum for February 1st.
The third Life is by St. Ultan, of Ardbraccan, in Meath, the same who induced St. Breogan to write the metrical Life already mentioned. The manuscript from which this Life was printed was found by F. Stephen White, S.J., in a monastery at Ratisbon; it was collated with another found in the monas­tery of St. Albert, at Cambray. Though there may be some doubts about the authorship, still that it is very ancient Colgan infers from the fact that most of the manuscripts which contain it were admitted to be five hundred years old, some of them seven hundred, in his time, i.e. in the middle of the seventeenth cen­tury. This would take the composition of it hack to the year 1000.
The 4th Life is by Anmchad, Latinized Animosus: it is in Latin metre. Who this Anmchad was — whether he was Bishop of Kildare and died in 980, or another — we have not sufficient grounds for saying with anything like certainty. The work seems to be that of one well acquainted with Kildare and its surroundings, and is more detailed than the others already mentioned. It begins thus: “Brethren, my mind is disturbed by three things—by love, which forces me to set down in writing the Life of St. Brigid, so that the great virtues which she practised, and the wonders which she wrought, may not be forgotten; next by shame, lest my uncouth and simple language may displease the learned and wise men who may read, or hear read, what I am going to write. But fear disturbs me still more, for I am too weak to undertake this work. I fear the sneers of unjust critics, who will scrutinize this work of mine as they do their food. But as the Lord ordered the poor among the people to offer to Him things mean and worthless in themselves for the building of the tabernacle, should not we too make an offering to build up His Church? And what is it but the congregation of the just?”
The 5th Life is the work of Laurence of Durham, a Benedic­tine monk, who lived about the year 1100. It was taken from a manuscript in the Irish College of Salamanca, the same which the Marquis of Bute lately published in a magnificent quarto volume, edited by the Bollandists.
Lastly, there is the Life by St. Caelan, a monk of Iniscealtra, in the Shannon, near Scariff. It is in Latin hexameters. It was discovered by an Irish Benedictine in the library of the mother-house of the Order, at Monte Cassino. The author lived in the first half of the eighth century. Prefixed to it is a beautiful poem on Ireland by St. Donatus, bishop of Fiesole, of whom Miss Stokes has given an account in her last book, Six Months in the Apennines, who lived a century later.
Besides, there are most valuable appendices:—
I. Offices to be said on the feast—one printed in Venice, in 1522; another in Paris, in 1622; a third in Genoa, not dated; a fourth used by the Canons of St. John of Lateran.
2. Extracts from the Lives of other saints relating to St. Brigid.
3. Accounts of her ancestors, death, her birthday, the number of years she lived, her place of burial.
4. The devotion to the Saint in Ireland and in other countries.
5. The history of the church of Kildare, its bishops, and the ravages by the Danes.
These are the Lives given by Colgan in the Trias. I should weary you if I enumerated to you the others that are now known, not only those written by her own countrymen, as that of Dr. Rothe, bishop of Ossory, On Brigid, the Worker of Miracles, but by French, Italian, German, Flemish, English, and Scottish writers. Even in our time her life has been written by Rev. S. Baring-Gould and by Dr. Forbes, bishop of Brechin. I need hardly say that no subject is oftener met with in our ancient Irish manuscripts than that of St. Brigid’s life. Dr. Whitley Stokes has published an ancient Irish Life of the Saint from the Book of Lismore. Those who wish to know the Saint’s life in detail, and the literature connected with it, will find all they can desire in the Rev. Canon O’Hanlon’s Lives of the Irish Saints, ii. 1.
The pedigree of St. Brigid is given in the Book of Leinster. She was the daughter of Dubtach, son of Demri, son of Bresil, son of Den, son of Conla, son of Art Corb, son of Cairbre, son of Cormac, son of Enghus Mean, son of Eochaidh Finn, son of Feidlimidh Rechtmar, who was ardrigh or chief monarch of Ireland, A.D.111. Her father is said to have been a great and mighty chief, Dux magnus et potens. Dr. Todd gives her genealogy and that of St. Columba, and shows they were descended from a common ancestor, Ugony Mor, supreme monarch of Ireland A.M.4546. Her mother, Brotseach, is said to have been a slave; but it is far more probable that she too was of noble birth, being the daughter of Dallbronach of the Dail Concobair in South Bregia. The Martyrology of Donegal says St. Ultan of Ardbraccan was her brother. Her birthplace was Fochart Muirthemhne, now Fochart, which is three miles north-west of Dundalk; the dun there was possibly the site of her father’s dwelling. There are remains of an old church dedicated to her, and close by is a holy well bearing her name, surmounted by a conical roof. Whether this building is of very remote date I cannot say, not having yet seen it. A stone, too, is pointed out in which it is said she was laid im­mediately after her birth. Such another stone we find at Gartan, the birthplace of St. Columba. The people of Donegal think that by lying on it before they set out for a foreign land, they will be freed from all danger of home-sickness. St. Bernard, in his Life of St. Malachy, makes mention of “the village of Fochart, which they say is the birthplace of Brigid the virgin.” This is close to the spot where Edward Bruce was slain in the year 1318.
Her parents wished to give her in marriage to a chief who sought her as wife. But she desired to devote herself wholly to the service of God and the poor. Other maidens followed her example, and joined her. They went to St. Macaille, bishop of Hy Failge. One of his clerics told him who she was, and why she and her companions had come to him. He placed the veil on her head, in token of her consecration to God in the re­ligions state. So St. Broegan Claen, in his hymn:
Posuit bonis avibus Maccalleus velum
Super caput sanctae Brigidae,
Clarus est in ejus gestis.
It would seem that she founded a religious establishment first near Uisneagh, in Westmeath. After a while she went, with her disciples, to Connaught, and dwelt in Magh Aoi, a district between Elphin and Roscommon, possibly at a place now bearing her name, called Killbride, in the parish of Kil­lacken. The people of Leinster, hearing of the wonders she wrought, besought her to return to her native province, and she determined to establish her monastery among them. She was welcomed by all. Drum Criadh seemed to her a fit place for her purpose; a large oak spread its branches around. “This,” Animosus tells us, “she loved very much, and she blessed it. Its stem and roots remain to this day.” The date of her settling there is not certain; it is presumed to have been 470; others say 480 and 484. This house, small and mean at first, grew to a great size, and soon it became the head of some hundreds of such houses, scattered throughout the country. Owing to her great repute, Kildare was for a while the metro­politan see of Leinster
The precise date of her death is not known. We shall not be much astray if we take that given by Colgan, namely, A.D. 523; nor is it known what her age was at her death. Colgan, who set down her birth as 439, would,, consequently, make her more than fourscore, while others say she died at the age of seventy.
Cogitosus says she was buried at Kildare. Indeed, he describes the shrines in which her remains and those of St. Con­laeth, the first bishop of this See, were preserved. He says they were ornamented with gold and silver, and precious stones; and crosses of gold and silver were suspended close by, one on the right side, the other on the left. He goes on to describe how the church grew in size, its extent, and the different parts and divisions of it; the door by which the priest, “cum regulari schola,” with his school of religious, entered, that by which the men entered, and the third, by which the women were admitted.
I am aware that some have held she was buried at Downpatrick immediately after her death; but that can hardly be, from what I have said above. Except by the fact of her relics being preserved at Kildare, it is impossible to account for “the vast crowds, the numberless multitudes, that came there from all the provinces of Ireland on her feast day, some for the plentiful banquets given them; others who were sick and diseased, coming to get back their health; others with gifts. All these came on the 1st of February, the day she cast off the burthen of the flesh, and followed the Lamb of God to the heavenly dwelling.” So Cogitosus. Later, very possibly to preserve her relics from the devastations of the Danes, from which Kildare seemed to have suffered oftener than any other place, they may have been removed to Down. Colgan thinks the removal may have taken place in the ninth century; and so the words of the distych would be verified—
Hi tres in Duno tumulo tumulantur in uno,
Brigida, Patricius, atque Columba pius.
Others will have it that John De Courcy got some of her relics transported there, in order to increase the importance of Down, which was the capital of his possessions. It would seem that the precise place where the bodies of the three Saints were laid was somehow forgotten. It is said that it was revealed to Bishop Malachy in 1189, and that the remains were transferred with great solemnity into the interior of the church soon after. When the relics of these Saints were destroyed, in the sixteenth century, during the deputyship of Lord Leonard Gray, St. Brigid’s head was saved by some of the clergy, who carried it to Neustadt, in Austria. In 1587 it was presented to the church of the Society of Jesus at Lisbon by the Emperor Rudolph II.
A few words in conclusion on the extent of the veneration shown to this saint. “So famous is the renown of this holy virgin,” says Hector Boetius, “that the Scots, the Picts, the Irish, and those who live near them, the English, put her next after the Virgin Mother of God.” And Alanus Copus: “She is most famous, not only among the Scots, the English, and the Irish, but churches are named after her throughout the whole world.” “Her feast,” F. Stephen White tells us, “was cele­brated in every cathedral church from the Grisons to the German Sea, for nearly a thousand years.” Cogitosus, in a passage given above, speaks of the veneration in which she was held by all the abbesses of the Scoti. The Book of Leinster gives a list of some thirty religious houses of women which were under her obedience in ancient times. Here are some places in the diocese of Dublin which still bear her name. We have Bride’s Church, a parish church, Bride’s street, Bride’s alley, Bride’s hospital; chapels dedicated to St. Brigid at Killo­sery, Swords, Ward, Tully, Tallaght, Kilbride near Rathfarnham. In Kildare—Kildare itself, Rosenallis, Cloncurry, Rathbride, Rathdrum. At Armagh there was a church and convent of women bearing her name, of which Dr. Reeves speaks in his Ancient Churches of Armagh. Wells bearing her name: Bride street, St. Margaret’s, Clondalkin, Swords, Clonskeagh, Rosslare, Ballysadare, Ballintobber, Kilcock, Buttevant, Tuam, Birchfield, near Ennistymon. Hospitals—Kilmainham, Carrickfergus, Dungarvan, Kells, and Galway. In the Ordnance Survey list of Irish townlands there are thirty-six Kilbrides. In Australia, America, wherever the Irish people are—and where are they not?—will be found churches, and schools, and convents bearing her name; no diocese without one at least; in some several, as in the diocese of Boston, four churches. And if we go to the Continent of Europe, we shall find her name wherever Irish missionaries have set foot—at Amiens, St. Omer, Besancon, Tours, Cologne, Fulda, at Fossey, in the diocese of Namur, at Seville, and Lisbon. An interesting fact bearing on what I have just said has been told me by the parish priest of Kildare. Very lately he received a letter from a parish priest in the neighbourhood of Aix-la-Chapelle, requesting of him a relic, however small, of St. Brigid; his parish church was dedicated to her, and on her feast, February 1st, there was a great concourse of the people to it in her honour. Few things are more touching than the casual inscription which one meets with at times on the margin of an old manuscript in St. Gall or Milan, the work of an Irish scribe in a foreign land; his labour is tedious and trying, working out these endless spirals and convolutions of the Opus Hibernicum; or it may be that a feeling of home-sickness has suddenly come on him, a fond longing to see once more “the fair hills of Eire,” and he stops awhile, and instinctively turns his thoughts to her who is the pride and glory of his race, “Margareta Hiberniae,” the pearl of Ireland, and its protectress, and he writes: “St. Brigid, aid me in the laborious task which I have undertaken,” or “St. Brigid, pray for us.”

The Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society is an invaluable source for those interested in the History, Heritage and Archaeology of Co. Kildare.   

JKAS cover vol II 72dpi.jpg

Above the cover of vol ii. 

St Brigid of Kildare 72dpi.jpg

 Above the first page of Denis Murphy's article and below the old Irish text for the word Brigid

Brigid old Irish 72dpi.jpg


Denis Murphy's article on St. Brigid of Kildare from Volume I of the Kildare Archaeological Journal.


Posted by mariocorrigan at January 30, 2006 06:32 PM