Who is St Brigit? And what’s this about the goddess Brigit? Well, first she was a Goddess of the Tuatha dé Danaan. Then she appears as a fifth century saint who was a miracle worker, rebellious daughter, boundary pusher and a powerful Abbess of the monastery at Kildare. Either or both have come to symbolise a distinctively Celtic dynamic of the Divine Feminine. Perhaps because of the wide Irish and Scottish diaspora she has appealed to many who have embraced the women’s spirituality movment.
While many try to separate the pagan goddess from the Christian saint the two overlap in interests and matronage. Both goddess and saint favour poets, healers and smiths. The saint, having been a slave dairy maid is also associated with cows. But then again, the cow has always symbolised the fertility goddesses of the Celtic world since cattle was synonymous with abundance and wealth.
Both the goddess and saint are associated with holy wells and the healing of sacred springs. In particular wells with the cure for the eye are sacred to both. This is because Brigit is the Great Envisager. If anyone knows about the ‘vision thing’ then Brigit is your woman! Or deity. Or both.
Additionally, both Brigits are associated with fire. Indeed, there were nineteen priestesses of Brigit who tended an eternal flame. When Abbess Brigit established her monastery around 500CE she also had nineteen nuns tending a flame. Today, there is the remnant of the Fire Temple in the grounds of St. Brigit’s CoI Cathedral in Kildare Town.
Abundance, fertility in all its manifestations, inspiration, vision and prophecy, craft, poetry – all these were gifts from the goddess and her namesake Christian saint. At her smithy forge this dynamo of the Divine Feminine creates, remakes and reshapes all.
Both the goddess and the saint are celebrated as the beginning of Spring on 31st January until 2nd February. (The Celts rather like to feast over three days.)
You can join Irish Blessings Tours on a week long pilgrim tour February 2014. It will include an international gathering of women and men who are exploring the ‘Brigit consciousness’ and how it is revisioning the 21st century. You will meet women’s spirituality authorities Mary Condren (“The Goddess and the Serpent”) and Dolores Whelan (“ Ever Ancient, Ever New”). You will walk some of the sacred landscape of this island seeing where the Tuatha dé Danaan landed in Erin as well as dolmens, holy wells, sweathouses and other ancient relics.
For more tour information email bee@irishblessingstours.
The primary reason for embarking on a pilgrimage or a spiritual journey is this. At some point in life we just have to cross a threshold, go through the doorway, open the window and let the light in for our soul to stretch and open up and out.
Walking connects our bodies to our spirits. If you walk long enough all the endless internal chatter quiets down; your breath deepens and becomes regular. Your eye will roam; you will notice but not judge what you observe. With the body being in contact with a quieter mind the spirit begins to relax and expand. We encounter inspiration on our pilgrim way – not just as we exercise our bodies and tone our lungs – but also in the mind and spirit.
Early Christian monks were called peregrini; this is where we get the word peregrinations. These solitary spiritual seekers wandered abroad to places that were foreign as a way of opening their hearts and minds to the divine. Australian aboriginals walk their ancestral song lines to connect with their soul. Europeans have also taken spiritual walks. We just call them pilgrimage or a spiritual journey.
This summer if you are travelling to Northwest Ireland – especially West Cavan and Fermanagh – walk with Irish Blessings Tour guides Bee Smith and Tony Cuckson to some of the betwixt and between power places of this unique border region. With many visitors arriving in Ireland this summer for The Gathering 2013 walk the places where our ancestors have lived continuously since the times of the Megalith Makers.
Irish Blessings Tours creatrix, Bee Smith is a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark trained tour guide. Her talks with walks will enhance your understanding of the ancient sites, natural heritage, mythology and local history. Storyteller and musician Tony Cuckson embellishes the walks with his beguiling Armagh accent and humour.
Allow poet, writer and storyteller Bee Smith to lead you on a fairy hunt in the magical places within the ancient Irish kingdom of Breifne. Bee’s tours will show you places where modern and mythic Ireland meet, sharing those ‘betwixt and between’ places of Tir na nÓg, the rainbow bridges between time and the timeless. No tour of Ireland is complete without that ‘tingle factor’ that this part of Ireland never fails to deliver.
So come walking Betwixt & Between with Bee to places where the fairies still thrive, where you can feel the ancestors watching your back and feel peace dropping slowly upon your soul.
Pricing- €30 per hour
Book via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 071 964 3936.
Payment should be made via PayPal upon receipt of confirming email or text message.
Groups up to eight people, children with focus welcome
Seeking the Source at Shannon Pot
This one hour tour of the source of Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon, includes storytelling and music with Tony Cuckson. Meadows, fairy trees, story and song. This walk is completely accessible.
Crossover with Crom Cruich
The Ancestors at our Back
This walking tour of the Cavan Burren is a minimum two hours and includes the guide’s own poetry inspired by the landscape and the folklore associated with it. A half day could be easily spent exploring dolmens, cairns, wedge tombs and boulder formations. A longer tour with a picnic included can be negotiated.
Those of us who have a devotion to Brigid, as a saint or goddess figure, are really excited that there is a walking pilgrimage, the Slí, Bhríde, or Brigid’s Way, that is launching as part of The Gathering Ireland 2013. A nine day pilgrimage walk will take place from 7th – 16th July this year.
The route begins in Faughart, Co. Louth, alleged to be the birthplace of St. Brigid, the daughter of a nobleman and slave woman. This iconic figure of the divine feminine has now become the leading ‘light’ inspiring a walking pilgrimage way that can be compared to Spain’s Camino, which starred in the Martin Sheen film, “The Way.”
Dolores Whelan, author of “Ever Ancient, Ever New” will facilitate this pilgrimage walk with Karen Ward. The route will take pilgrims south from Faughart to Kildare, where as an abbess St. Brigid founded one of the most important monastic communities of the early Celtic Christian era. As well as visiting these prominent Celtic Christian shrine the route will tread an ancient path passing the Hill of Tara before taking to Ireland’s Grand Canal at Maynooth.
This walking pilgrimage will allow participants to ponder your life’s soul journey, shed what you are ready to leave behind and to allow Brigid’s eternal flame to light up and align your vision for your soul’s journey.
It’s been unseasonably cold in many places. It’s hard to believe that it is Easter! Here is Ireland the meteorologist say it’s the coldest in fifty years, but last Easter was balmy . Yet my sister-in-law can remember with the past fifteen years having a caravan holiday on the Antrim coast and waking up to snow! March can be a bit temperamental weather-wise.
Out in our garden I noticed that the mild winter had seemed to quell our hellebores. My ‘Christmas Rose’ has taken on a more North American identity and become a ‘Easter Rose’. It felt more like Spring in February.
The daffodils bravely shiver and trumpet the coming of spring. It has dawned sunny and cold but without a frost this morning. As I write you this Easter greeting I look out a winter onto our garden and notice that the willow trees have sent forth catkins.
Living in this corner of Northwest Ireland in West Cavan, close to the boundaries of Leitrim and Fermanagh is a great blessing. When Tony and I left England nearly thirteen years ago, leaving behind a business, job security and good friends, many thought we were mad, feckless or both. Yet we have never regretted it. To be able to live out in the country on a little acre of fertile peaty ground is like living on a diamond mine – but you rarely have to dig. The fairies just toss jewels at you left and right.
I am daily mesmerised by the every changing sky both day and night. It is just past the full moon. In the absence of street lighting the soft LED effect of moonlight makes you want to go out and moon bath. We have witnessed magenta sunrises over the Playbank on a winter dawn and equally spectacular sunsets in all seasons. In autumn we wake to see a bank of mist.
Before we moved here I came across a book by an Irishman called “ I Could Read the Sky.” It was about a passing culture or , more accurately, the effect of transplanting a countryman to an urban environment with its light pollution and tall buildings obscuring a good view of the sky. Over our time hear I’ve learned the meaning of interpreting the signs in the sky.
When one feels blessed there is a deep connection to gratitude. I wake up each morning grateful to have been guided to this very special corner of Northwest Ireland. It doesn’t have a lot of interpretation centres, museums or heritage villages – a few – and many open their doors at Easter.
What Northwest Ireland does have is pristine land that you can walk and if you listen to the land and look up to the sky you will be blessed with the most wonderful insights, inspiration and profound awe for the marvel of this good earth who deserves our respect and devotion.
The Celts, both pagan and Christian, knew that Spirit speaks to us through nature. This is what is so distinctive about the Celtic Spiritual heritage. When I walk the glens and woodlands, the stony Cavan Burren, when I look into the Source at Shannon Pot, I am persuaded that Celtic Spirituality is a great legacy gift to us in our post-modern age of hurry and haste.
This Springtime may you be blessed with the promise of rebirth
where ever you are and whoever you may be.
May the birds carol and rejoice that we are all alive under one sky
May your spirit unfurl like a sunflower following the arc of light
And may we all feel the blessing of this good earth
Irish Blessings Wishes you a Happy Easter and a Joyful Springtime
While many know that Ireland’s three patron saints are Patrick, Brigid and Columcille, each locality of Ireland has local and lesser known saints. These saints and scholars contributed to the high culture of Ireland in the first millenium of Christianity.
If you are interested in Celtic Christian heritage then do explore the lesser known Irish saints. Celtic spirituality flowered in Ireland while the Roman Empire crumbled and the Dark Ages descended on continental Europe. In many respects much of the scholarship that survived those dark times is down to the flourishing of Irish monasteries.
In the early Christian era in Ireland they didn’t get around by road they used the intricate and extensive networks of rivers and loughs. In particular the Erne-Shannon waterway system has a host of important relic Celtic Christian era sites of importance. It was also the equivalent of a medieval motorway. It’s how folk got around.
St. Mogue is a great example of a little known saint that has a great deal of regional significance. Born of noble lineage his mother felt the pangs of labour and took refuge on an island near what is now Templeport, Bawnboy, Co. Cavan. Her son, whom she had visions of doing great work for God, was born that night on what is now called St. Mogue’s Island. The mother was frantic to have her son baptised immediately, life expectancy of infants in the early Middle Ages being rather a roll of the dice.
St. Killian happened to be travelling and was on the opposite shore. The only boat on the island wasn’t available. However, they received the divine inspiration to float the baby across the lough on a flagstone.
Yeah, a flagstone taken from the cottage hearth.
Today Child Protection Services and the Police would be there in a heart beat. But did you know that pumice will float? And Bawnboy is in the the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, with a wealth of geological finds behind when the Ice Sheets melted. Including pumice as it happens.
St. Mogue was duly baptised, survived and became well known up and down the monastic settlements along the Lough Erne waterway system. He is associated with Devenish Island near Enniskillen, in Fermanagh which is also home to one of the best examples of a Round Tower in Ireland. There is also a holywell dedicated to St. Mogue near Rossinver, Co. Leitrim, which is also home to Ireland’s Organic Centre.
On St. Mogue’s Island itself there is reputed a holy clay that is a great preserver from fire and accidents. You only need a tiny pill size. I know local residents who swear by St. Mogue’s clay. One, who spent some years in London as a taxi driver, always made sure he had some in the boot or glove box of his vehicle. His faith in St. Mogue was not unfounded.
Do explore the localities of some of Ireland’s lesser known saints. They are a rich vein in Celtic spirituality and Irish heritage. If you follow the Erne-Shannon Waterway you will find many surprises.
The days are lengthening. The rushes in the boggy, sodden fields are greening. Snowdrops are popping their heads out from under snow. Yesterday, 2nd February was Imbolc and a group of us gathered at Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim in the Cultural Quarters.
Brigid, whether in her manifestation as the saintly abbess of Kildare or ancient Celtic goddess Brigid, gives us healing, craft and art. So it makes sense to celebrate this return of spring with arts and crafts activities, song and poems. So the group that gathered wove the traditional St. Brigit’s Cross. The stories and legends of both the goddess and saint were shared as we concentrated on making the crosses.
Brigid also a patroness of innovation so we took the Brat Bhríde, the cloth that is hung out on 31st January to capture Brigid’s Blessing as she walks abroad on the reawakening earth. Her blessings cling with the morning dew on the cloth which is used for healing -fevers, headaches, any ailment that family livestock might suffer.
My idea was to create prayer flags with the Brat Bhríde to send prayers and blessings that are more collective – families, communities, wildlife, world peace. St. Brigit in the 21st century is invoked by people working for social justice and environmental issues.
St. Brigit was famous for her hospitality and no authentic Irish gathering is complete without cups of tea and a bit of cake or brown bread. Over that past few years it has become a personal tradition and way of honouring the reawakening of Spring to bake Seed Cake. So if you want to celebrate the arrival of Spring here’s my recipe. The recipe is in Imperial and American cup measurements. Sorry, I’m still struggling to get my head around metric!
Bee’s Seed Cake
Heat the oven to Moderate/Gas Mark 4/350F/180C
1. In a bowl cream together 4 oz/1 cup butter with 4 oz/1cup of golden caster sugar
2. Add a generous dessertspoon of vanilla extract.
3, Then beat in two large eggs.
4. Sift in 6oz/1.5 cups of self-raising flour. Get it well combined and then add 2 TBSPs poppy seed.
5. Lastly, stir in 2oz/0.5 cup of thick plain or vanilla flavoured yoghurt
6. Get the batter smooth and pour it into a 1 pound loaf tin that has been greased and lined with either baking parchment or flour.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes (it will be less for fan assisted ovens.) Check with a skewer that the cake is completely baked. Dust the top with sifted confectioners/icing sugar.
Beannacht Bhríde! Brigid’s Blessings!
First of February might be mud season or even the depths of winter elsewhere but here in Ireland we are celebrating the beginning of spring. The Irish word for this month is Imbolc and it is thought to refer to the first flow of ewe’s milk with the birth of the first spring lambs.
Now the snowdrops begin to appear all over Ireland even though there may be some flurries, some frost and snowfall on the mountains. But spring is in the air for sure and this celebration of Ireland’s matron saint, and the Celtic Goddess who pre-dates her, reminds us of the earth’s ‘quickening’ as the daylight increases. We celebrate Brigit in various ways. Although the saint is associated with Kildare and Faughart in Co. Louth there are Brigit Holy Wells everywhere in Ireland. She is celebrated in every corner with localities having their own ways of expressing honour and devotion.
It’s also quite a domestic event. On the evening of 31st January you can open your door and say good bye to winter. Then you hang a cloth – anything from a hankie to a sheet – out to collect the first dew on the morning of St. Brigit’s Feast Day, 1st February. The dew is said to offer her blessing for healing and in particular useful for fevers, headaches, eye problems and whatever ails your cattle or fowl.
St. Brigit is one of a triumvirate of saints that are honoured in Ireland. St. Brigit’s Feast Day is the first on the calendar that will interest spiritual travellers. St. Patrick’s Day, although a spiritual feast and a Roman Catholic Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland, is also a national holiday and a day where many a Lenten intention is relaxed on the day. In June there is the less well known St. Columcille of Derry, this year’s European City of Culture, who founded a monastery on Iona in Scotland.
The St. Brigit’s Cross is one of the best known symbols of Ireland. The harp is another famous symbol so I will share with you harpist Aíne Minnogue’s harp piece entitled “Brigit’s Feast.”
In 2014 Irish Blessings Tours will be leading a Tour Celebrating Brigit, both as saint and Celtic goddess. If you are interested in a guided and escorted, week-long tour email email@example.com
May you know love
spark and flair of youth’s longing
May you know love
steady flame of the hearth
May you know love
glowing embers of age
May you know love
ever changing constant
May you know love
Happy Valentine’s Day. I’ve written this special blessing for Valentine’s Day. Whether you have a partner or are single this blessing applies to us all regardless of relationship status.
My partner, Tony Cuckson, and I have been interviewed by Cavan Community radio as part of a celebration of love during Valentine’s week. We have had the privilege to explore this subject for nearly three decades. We met at a Poetry Circle so we included many of our favourites as readings during the broadcast.
The second half of the programme includes Tony, who hails from Armagh, singing one of my favourites “My Lagan Love” as well as our own musings on how relationships go through cycles and experience rebirth. If you are a lover of Irish traditional songs be sure to listen to his rendition. I know I may be partial, but sometimes it just makes me shiver to hear him sing it.
It truly is a blessing to have been able to and to continue to journey on the greatest learning curve in life. Love also introduced me to Ireland and quite independently of any love for a man I also fell in love with this land, each contour, nook, cranny and cove of it.
Lay me down upon your cloak -
Swaddle me. Sing to me
your secrets of always enough.
Lay me down upon your cloak -
Wrap me snug. Tell me a story.
The miracle of always enough
Lay me down upon your cloak-
Rock me. Gently now lay me
down in the source of always enough
© Bee Smith, 2009. All rights reserved.
This poem appears in an anthology of writing on Brigit published by Goddess Ink. Editted by the late Patricia Monaghan and Michael McDermott Brigit: Sun of Womanhood offers a holistic view of Ireland’s matron goddess and saint.
The prayer poem is based on the tale that St. Brigit asked a noble of Leinster for land to build her abbey. He laughed because it was very good land and he would be foolish to give it away. She then said, “Sir, if you would promise to give me only the land that my cloak will cover I would be satisfied.” He assented. Four of her nuns each took one corner of her cloak and walked east, south, west and north. Her cloak expanded and expanded and expanded as acre upon acre was covered with her cloak. In abject terror the lord ordered them to stop. They did. But the land that was covered by Brigit’s Mantle was deeded to her as the lord was a man of his word. And it was enough for her to establish her abbey Cill Dara (Cell of Oak) in what is modern day Kildare.
May you always know the source of always enough.