I wrote this poem about Brigid a few years ago but am taking it out for a replay today. Brigid (Brigit, Bridget, Bride) is one of Ireland’s three patron saints, along with St. Columba and the most famous St. Patrick.
My mother’s name is Brigid, though everyone knows her as Ida, and she was named as almost every Irish person used to be, after a saint. Brigid was a Christian Abbess and founder of several monasteries, including the famous Kildare (Cill Dara meaning “Church of the Oak Tree”), where men and women served equally together–though these days were soon to end, as the Christian religion turned patriarchal.
Little is known about the woman we call St Brigid after she entered the church.
Like many Christian monasteries, the Kildare Monastery was built over an old pagan shrine, one to the Celtic goddess Brigid.
She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha de Danann, daughter of Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán.[a]
Brigid is associated with wisdom, poetry, healing, protection, blacksmithing and domesticated animals and Cormac’s Glossary, a 9th century text by Christian monks, says that Brigid was “the goddess whom poets adored”
In my poem, the celtic goddess and the christian saint are fused.
Queen of queens, they called her in the old books,
the Irish Mary. Never washed her hands
nor her head in sight of a man, the books said,
never looked into a man’s face. She was good
with the poor, multiplied food, gave ale to lepers.
Among birds, call her dove; among trees, a vine.
A sun among stars. Such was the sort of woman preferred
as the takeover was made: consecrated cask,
throne for His glory, intercessor. Brigid said
nothing to any of this, the reverence
or the upbraidings. Her realm is the lacuna, silence
her sceptre, her own way of life its own witness.
Out of desire, the lure of lust or the dust of great deeds,
she was distorted: to consort, mother-virgin,
to victim or whore. I am not as womanly a woman
as she. So I say: Let us see. Let us say how she is the one.
It is she who conceives and she who does bear. She who
knitted us in the womb and who will cradle our tomb
-fraying. Daily she offers her arms, clothes us
in compassion, smiles as we wriggle for baubles.
Yes, it is she who lifts you aloft
to whisper through your ears, to kiss
through your eyes, to touch
her cooling cheek to your cheek.
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