St. Brigid’s Day – A Case and Cause for Mná na hÉireann

Rush job
The original Rush Job: The making and hanging of rush crosses is the traditional way of honouring St. Brigid’s Day and welcoming the coming of spring. ©John Reidy

If ever there was a cause for Mná Na hÉireann to get its teeth into, it must be that of the woman whose feast day we don’t really celebrate today.

February 1st has almost always been known as St. Brigid’s Day. The making of new crosses from fresh rushes for the day was every bit as important as the traditions around the holly and the shamrock.

St. Brigid and the Cross 

The Wikipedia version of her life has it that, in Christianity, St Brigid and the cross are linked together by a story about her weaving it at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptised.

Though she is often known as St. Brigid of Kildare – and she was buried there, it is believed that she was born in Co. Louth around A.D. 450. She died in her early 70s in 525 and was buried in Kildare. She was reburied in Downpatrick during the plundering Viking invasion.

Quite a Reputation

Brigid must have had quite a reputation in the course of her lifetime as the following story from the same source suggests:

A pagan chieftain from the neighbourhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived, the chieftain was raving.

As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him.

As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together.

Original Rush Job

The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked, his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest.

Through her weaving, he converted and was baptised at the point of death. Since then, the cross of rushes has existed in Ireland.

You could say that St. Brigid did the original rush job on that occasion. Happy St. Birgid’s Day.

If you need instruction on the making of a St. Brigid’s Cross have a look at the short clip here. You can also use drinking straws to sharpen your skills. It’s a good idea to put these in warm water first as they bend easier.

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