St Brigid of Kildare by E. S. Rodhe

St Brigid of Kildare
 
 
The scents and sounds of spring remind one of St. 
Bride, the patron saint of the first flowers, young children 
and lambs. For February is the month of St. Bride of 
the kindly flame, the gentle mother of all young and 
tender things Her ways are ways of gentleness. Through 
the mists of centuries we see her gracious figure, her 
lamb in her arms, a lamp in her hand. When the bitter 
winds are still blowing, the kindly flame of her flower, the 
dandelion, shines out and tells us that spring is near. She 
watches over mothers and their new-born babes, and on 
the hill-sides she brings the shepherds to the new-born 
lambs. She is loved in all Celtic lands, from the western 
highlands and islands of Scotland to Kildare, where, for 
centuries, her lamp was kept always burning. 

St. Bride's father was Dubtach, twelfth in descent from 
Fedlimidh Rechtmar, King of Ireland in the second 
century. Her mother was a beautiful slave. When St. 
Bride took the veil seven virgins followed her example, 
and each of them chose a Beatitude representing the grace 
she specially desired. St. Bride chose ' Blessed are the 
merciful for they shall obtain mercy.' The various lives 
of her recount many tales of her gentle pity for all young 
creatures, and for weak and suffering folk. She was noted 
for her love of animals and birds, and she particularly 
delighted in calling the wild duck and geese to her and 
caressing them. 

When her fame was at its height Iollan, King of Lein- 
ster, offered her land to build a monastery. She chose the 
clay ridge above the plain of Magh Breagh, and there, by 
an ancient and venerated oak, she established her cill, 
afterwards famous as Kildare, the ' cell of the oak.' In- 
numerable folk of both sexes came to her cill and, 
according to Cogitosus, Kildare became l the head of 
nearly all the Irish churches and the pinnacle towering 
above all monasteries of the Scots, whose jurisdiction 
spread throughout the whole Hibernian land, reaching 
from sea to sea.' St. Bride was joined by her kinsman, 
Conlaeth, a hermit who was famed for the bells he made. 
He became bishop ' to govern the church with her in 
episcopal dignity.' Even when he was a bishop Conlaeth 
continued to work at his anvil, and made many croziers 
and bells. Whether St. Bride loved bells we do not know, 
but it is on record that St. Gildas sent her a bell from 
Brittany. Numerous churches are named after this 
beloved saint, amongst others, St. Bride in Fleet Street. 

Beyond St. Bride we see another form, still more remote 
and almost lost in the darkness of antiquity — Bride the 
Beautiful, the Gaelic goddess of poetry. A goddess of 
flame also, for she was born at sunrise, and has never 
ceased to light the hearts of poets with divine fire. She, 
too, lights the kindly flame of the dandelion, the first 
fire of spring. In the clouds which shroud the hill-sides 
the shepherds hear the crying of the young lambs she is 
bringing earthward, and they rejoice at her coming. She 
watches over young children in their cradles, and when 
they smile it is because they have seen gentle St. Bride's 
face.