Culture & Reference
Saint Brigid's Well scene image from Free Photos Of Ireland
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Hello again from Ireland where the country is in the middle of a General Election campaign. With Spring on the way it certainly looks as if there may be some pretty big changes coming (see the news articles below).
This month we have an examination of the life of Saint Brigid of Ireland, a story from Pat Watson about two boys and a rabbit and some famous quotes about Love & Romance, just in time for Valentine's Day!
If you have an article or story you would like to share then please do send it to us.
Until next time,
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The recent General Election in the UK was effectively a third referendum on Brexit (the decision by the UK to leave the European Union). After the initial referendum in 2016 that resulted in a narrow victory (51.89% to 48.11%) for those who wished to see the UK out of Europe, a General Election was then called by the then Prime Minister Theresa May. She gambled on support for the Brexit decision holding firm and granting her Conservative Party a mandate to deliver on the referendum result.
This tactic backfired drastically with the Tory Government loosing its slim majority and then being unable to force any Brexit deal over the finish line. The make-up of the UK Parliament at the time meant that Theresa May's Government was beholden to the D.U.P. Unionist M.P.'s for support, who of course were opposed to many elements of the deals that were proposed.
Enter Boris Johnson who then took over from Theresa May. He also gambled on a General Election but this time the Conservatives were returned to power with a thumping majority with many constituencies that traditionally voted for the Labour Party sensationally backing the Tories and their Brexit plan.
Brexit was finally enacted on 31st January 2020. The 'Remainders' had finally been silenced while the 'Brexiteers' claimed victory.
From an Irish perspective what follows will be a year-long set of negotiations with both sides seemingly willing to craft some sort of deal that will result in the least amount of friction to trade as possible. The other main issue around Brexit that most concerns Ireland is the situation regarding a border in Ulster. With the UK leaving the EU the northern Counties in Ireland were also dragged out of the EU with it. And this despite the Province voting to remain in the UK (similarly with Scotland).
The Irish Government claims that they have assurances from the EU and the UK Parliaments that under the current arrangements there will be a virtual border between the two islands, rather than one splitting Ireland itself. It is difficult to see though how some sort of border will not need to be constructed between the six Counties and the rest of Ireland in order to facilitate trade checks, custom officials and potential tariffs.
Now that Brexit has been enacted the British Prime Minister may feel more at ease in negotiating harshly with the EU. And in fact it is the EU that are insisting that any of its member states (including Ireland), must enforce border checks with those countries that are beyond the Union (in this case that would be the UK).
It will be ironic if it is the EU that eventfully forces Ireland to impose a border in Ulster as part of their negotiations with the British, and this would be a potential disaster for peace on this island.
Since the foundation of the Irish State a century ago two political Parties have dominated the Irish electoral landscape. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael can both trace their history to the Irish civil War. One side opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that saw the country partitioned in Ulster, while the other side supported it.
Historically it has always been these two Parties that have formed Governments in Ireland although in recent decades they have always been in a coalition arrangement.
Both of these Parties are centerist in their policies. Of course there are some differences between them with Fianna Fail claiming to be more to the left wing while Fine Gael is seen as being more to the right, yet the distinctions have become increasingly blurred.
The real problem for those seeking an alternative is that those Parties who are more left-wing and of a socialist leaning have always been very fractured. The Labour Party were decimated in the 2016 General Election with a myriad of smaller parties and independent candidates left to represent the left-wing voter.
But while the Labour Party has been deserted their voters have not disappeared and they now look set to back Sinn Fein in the upcoming election. Recent opinion polls put Sinn Fein above Fine Gael and level with Fianna Fail!
Sinn Fein is running 42 candidates so with 79 Parliament seats needed for a majority there is no way they can seize outright power. But they can go into a coalition Government.
Sinn Fein in Government in Ireland would be a sensational result, a seismic shift.
Saint Brigid of Ireland, also known as Saint Brigid of Kildare is the female Patron Saint of Ireland. Known as Bridey, Bridget, Mary of Gaels, Biddy, Bríd and Breed, Saint Brigid was born in the year 451 near Dundalk to a pagan Gaelic Chieftain named Dubtach (later anglicized as Duffy), and to a Christian slave mother named Brocca (also Brocessa or Brocseach), who was sold soon after Brigid's birth. She was baptized by Saint Patrick with whom she was to become friends.
Legends of her holiness abound. One such tale recalls how the baby Brigid would vomit when a Druid tried to feed her, such was the impurity of the Pagan Druid. When older she was constantly giving away her food and clothing to the poor, on one occasion performing the miracle of having the food-stocks she had taken from the kitchen replenished.
As a child the young Brigid enjoyed a certain position of some comfort and privilege, the family being in receipt of financial support because of their position of authority. Upon reaching adulthood however, she assumed a role of servitude and was charged with caring for her father and family.
She never forgot her mother however and, despite being forbidden to do so she left the family home, located her mother, negotiated her release from slavery and returned home to her fathers house. To her dismay, her father had arranged her marriage to a poet, he being among the most prestigious men of the time. Brigid had already vowed to remain celibate and to do God's work so once more, she left her home, this time forever.
Together with seven other dedicated women she formed the first ever female Monastic community in Ireland in the year 468. They helped the poor of the time and were attributed with many miracles.
Despite having limited resources they never seemed to be without food or supplies for their good works. She founded a school of Art and a Monastery at Cill Dara (meaning 'the Church of the Oak'), about which the modern town of Kildare now stands. It is thought that this was the exact same site that a shrine to a Celtic Pagan Goddess named Brigid also stood. During this time the Abbess of Kildare was regarded as superior general of the monasteries in Ireland, an incredible position for any woman to occupy.
Her friendship with Saint Patrick was well recorded in the ninth century 'Book of Armagh':
'Between St Patrick and Saint Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.'
The most famous miracle associated with Brigid tells of her confrontation with an Irish Chieftain. She asked him for a quantity of land so that she could build a monastic community. The Chieftain replied that she could have whatever amount of land her cloak could cover. Brigid took the cloak from her shoulders and cast it on the ground where to the amazement of all onlookers it covered over twelve acres of the Chieftains lands! He gave it willingly.
Brigid died in the year 525 with the date of her death becoming that of her feast-day, February 1st. It is on this day that she has since been celebrated, her memory marked with the traditional creation of the Saint Brigid Cross, made from reeds. She is buried next to Saint Patrick in Downpatrick.
Such was her popularity among the Irish that her name and its many variants became incredibly popular over the following centuries. At one time nearly every Irish family had a child bearing the name, and when they ventured abroad to England or America the name Brigid assumed the meaning of 'Irish woman'.
The Goddess Brigid
Saint Brigid of Ireland is one of many Irish Saints who have been associated with ancient Celtic Pagan Gods and Goddesses. The Celtic Goddess Brigit (or Brigid, Bríg), whose name means 'exhalted one', was of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Daghda and wife to Eochu Bres. She is associated with the Spring season, with fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. She is credited with creating the ancient tradition of 'Keening', which is a form of wailing, weeping and singing, and is carried on to this day in rural Ireland, especially at wakes and funerals.
The Goddess Brigid was 'syncretized' with Saint Brigid during the middle ages. This was a process whereby the practices, beliefs and traditions of a Christian Saint were merged, blended and assimilated with an earlier often mythological character. It is no coincidence that both Brigid the actual Saint who lived in Kildare and Brigit the mythological Goddess of old Ireland are both associated with the coming of Spring.
Saint Brigid is celebrated on February 1st each year, the day and month of her death. It is this day that also happens to be the date of an annual Gaelic Pagan festival called 'Imbolc', marking the beginning of Spring!
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I chose my wife, as she did her wedding gown, for qualities that would wear well.
Lord! I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing.
Women are made to be loved, not understood
A youth with his first cigar makes himself sick. A youth with his first girl makes everybody sick.
The most important things in the world to do are to get something to eat, something to drink, and somebody to love you.
They lived and laughed and loved and left.
A Man is already halfway in love with any woman who listens to him.
Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow Internet service to see who they really are.
You dont love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.
Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world, a mother's love is not.
Love will heal what language fails to know.
It often occurs to me that we love most what makes us miserable. In my opinion the damned are damned because they enjoy being damned.
How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she was a perfectly normal human being.
Seamus Heaney - meaning 'dont be afraid'. These were the last words the poet sent to his wife, just before he passed away.
Gravitation can't be held responsible for people falling in love.
I haven't spoken to my wife in years. I didn't want to interrupt her.
Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity.
With our sheepdog Bruno, we chased rabbits every day. The war was on and there was money in rabbits. Of course we never caught any. After all I was only six years old and my brother Frank, just eight.
The same thing happened every day. All three of us arrived in the field where the rabbits were. Bruno charged after them, barking loudly, followed by the two of us, shouting skulla-hulla. The rabbits scampered off and disappeared down their burrow at the far end of the field. Bruno tore at the mouth of the burrow, then snorted down it as if to say: that will teach you a lesson. We went home empty handed, hoping for better luck next time.
One day Frank had a brain-wave. He ordered me to wait a quarter of an hour, while he took a circuitous route and entered the field from the far end, where he snuck in and sat in the mouth of the burrow.
When I arrived with the dog the rabbits ran for cover as usual but when they reached the burrow they ran every way in confusion. Bruno grabbed and killed one. We were shocked, elated and ecstatic all at once. Rabbits were worth a half a crown each, we were rich.
We dressed up and headed for town, three miles away. Frank carried the rabbit and I walked alongside.
'You walk the other side,' he ordered.
'It's my rabbit and I don't want anybody to think that you had anything to do with catching him.'
'If you don't go round the other side you can go home,' he said.
It was better to walk the other side of a lad with a rabbit than not walk at all, so I obeyed, reluctantly, well, not so much obeyed as agreed.
After a while he changed the rabbit to the other hand and I had to change sides again. The farther we went the oftener this happened.
'Do you want me to take one leg?' I asked.
'Well just for a while,' he said, 'But if we meet anyone, you must let go immediately'
I agreed, it was better to carry a rabbit a bit than not carry him at all and someone might come round a corner before he got a chance to reclaim both legs. Then, wouldn't I be a big fellow?
Just then a man put his head over a wall and said: 'Good gossens! Are ye off to town with yer rabbit?'
'It's my rabbit I'm only letting him hold one leg for a bit.'
'And take a bit of the weight,' he smiled.
'I felt very grown up and important'
The man could see that I was carrying half the rabbit and indeed he probably thought I was part owner. After all seeing is believing.
Shortly after I realised why I was allowed to help. We were small boys and the rabbit was big and long. While holding his paws, we had to keep our arms bent in order to keep his head off the ground. We tried to overcome this problem by catching him above the knees but this was harder on little fingers as the legs were fat and slanty. Having covered over a mile, we reached the Spring Well road. It was a quiet, mile long road running beside the railway and there was a grass verge on both sides.
Out of necessity, we were now working as a team, swapping sides as arms tired. To conserve energy we decided to walk on the verge and let the head drag on the grass. This worked well enough but by the end of the mile the head was looking the worse for the wear. We got a drink at the spring well and sat a little while. Now for the last half-mile through the town to the butcher's shop, we had to keep the head off the road and it was very difficult, only the vision of the half crown kept us going.
The butcher was standing at the door with a knife in his hand and saw us coming. He took the rabbit, slit him with the knife, threw the entrails to a passing dog, who wolfed them down, then turned to us.
'Did ye see that? That's how you gut a rabbit and ye should have gutted him hot. Because ye didn't so he is only worth eighteen pence.'
He handed Frank one and six and disappeared with the rabbit. There were thirty pence in a half-a-crown. We turned away devastated, the tears overflowing in spite of manly efforts. It was a long way home. We only got just over half the money after all our struggles. What could two small boys do?
Then luck struck. Big Peter happened to be passing. 'Why are ye crying?' He asked. We told him our story. The butcher heard the commotion and reappeared explaining the gutting problem.
Big Peter said nothing, just caught him by the lapels and began to hop him up and down. He turned very pale, his explanation died away and he handed me the missing shilling.
Frank said I could keep it.
All is well that ends well.
'The Rabbit' is one of sixty lyrical yarns from 'Original Irish Stories' by Pat Watson.
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