Monday 30 September 2013

Saint Brigid, September 30

The very last day of September sees the commemoration on the Irish calendars of a Saint Brigid, who is otherwise left unidentified. Canon O'Hanlon identifies the two main candidates who may claim to be commemorated on this day. The first is a holy woman mentioned in the Life of Saint Senan (feastday 8th March) and the second an unknown female saint associated with a holy well and church at Kilbreedy (literally 'Brigid's church') in County Laois (or Queen's County as it was called in O'Hanlon's time). I am not sure that he really proves either case convincingly, but this mystery Saint Brigid is a good example of the large number of Irish saints who are recorded in our martyrologies without any further clues to their identity.

St. Brigid, of Cluainfidhe, or perhaps of Kilbreedy, Queen's County.

In the published Martyrology of Tallagh, the feast of St. Brigitta is thus simply recorded, at the 30th of September. In the Book of Leinster copy, at this day, there is a similar entry. Without any further designation, Brigit is entered in the Feilire of Marianus O'Gorman, at this day. In the Martyrology of Charles Maguire, as in the Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Marianus O'Gorman, the feast of a St. Brigid is entered at the 30th of September.

Among the holy women, who are recorded as having flourished in the Irish church, there is a St. Brigid, who was daughter to Conchraid, and she belonged to the family of Mactail. Colgan says, this family seems to have been derived, from the Kings of Munster, having issued from the race of Oengus, King over that province. From this line, St. Mactail the Bishop was descended. Or perhaps, the family of Mactail was derived from the O'Brien sept. Cassius, surnamed Tallins, had several sons, among whom were Blodius, Cassius, Sedneus, and Delbatius. Hence it happens, that some one of these, or of their posterity—especially Blodius' children, who inherited the chieftainship—might be considered as belonging to the family of Mactail. The word itself signifies son of Tallius. If Colgan's conjecture be correct, those circumstances connected with the family and place of her residence point out St. Brigid, who is venerated on the 30th of September, as the one mentioned in St. Senan's Second Life. From it we are able to procure the following account of her. We are told there, how St. Brigid, a holy virgin, had established herself in a cell, on the banks of the river Shannon, and at a place, called Clain in fidi, or Cluainfidhe. Whilst there, she had prepared a cloak or chasuble for St. Senan, which she desired sent to him, but had not the necessary means for transport. However, she covered the vestment with hay, and having placed it, with some letters, in an osier basket, which floated out on the river, the result was committed to a providential issue. The letters were directed to St. Senan, and contained a request, that he would send the Most Holy Sacrament to her. By a miracle of Divine Providence, and without any human direction, the basket floated out into the bed of the Shannon, which at this point was very wide; and, at length it landed on the Island shore, near the church of St. Senan. This circumstance, being revealed to the holy man, he called one of his disciples, who was a Deacon. He was desired to bring the basket, which lay on the shore, to the monastery. Having fulfilled such orders, Senan took the vestment and letters contained in the basket. He then placed therein, as we are told, two portions of salt and a pixis containing the Sacred Host. He next ordered, in the name of God, to whom every creature owes obedience, that the basket should return by the same way it had come, and restore to St. Brigid one of the lumps of salt and the pixis it contained ; and that it should bear the other portion of salt, to St. Diermit, who dwelt in the monastery of Inis-clothrand. According to St. Senan's mandate, the basket returned to St. Brigid. She took out therefrom the pixis, and one of the salt portions. Before she had time to remove the other, the basket was carried off by motion of the water; and it sailed, by a direct course, against the river's current until it arrived at Inisclothrand. Having understood what had occurred through a Divine revelation, St. Diermit went forth, and brought the basket to his monastery with much joy. He gave thanks to God, for the wonder wrought through his holy servant, St. Senan.

Of the thirteen saints bearing this name, as mentioned by our Irish Martyrologists, Colgan supposed the circumstance already related can only apply to that St. Brigid, who was venerated on the 30th of September. However, in the Third and Fourth Lives of St. Brigid, such anecdote was transferred to her, with this variation, that the basket or box was entrusted to the ocean, and had to pass over a very great round and extent of sea. Such a transaction—in which there is nothing improbable—was transformed into a marvellous story, which has probably helped to give rise to the opinion, that Senan was established at Inniscatthy before the death of St. Brigid.

A St. Brighit, or Bride, seems to have been venerated in the Parish of Bordwell, Queen's County. There had been a pattern at a Bride's Well, not far from the old church and castle of Kilbreedy, and it was held between the close of harvest and the month of November. Of this I was assured by an old man— in 1870 considerably over 80 years of age— but he could not recollect the exact day on which the pattern had been kept. No other saint bearing the name of Brigid seems so likely to correspond with her to whom allusion has been here made. The old church of Kilbreedy lies about a mile from Rathdowney. Measured outside the old walls, it is 50 feet in length, by 24 feet in breadth. The walls of limestone are nearly four feet in thickness, and were well built, but only the lower portions now remain. The church and grave-yard are evidently very ancient ; but both have been enclosed by a modern and well-built wall, with an iron-gate set up for entrance. Many graves and magnificent hawthorn trees are within the grave-yard enclosure. The remarkable fort of Middlemount rises to a considerable elevation, at some little distance, and on the opposite side of the high road. Concentric and diminishing circular fosses surround it, and ascend to the terminating irregular cone.

The festival of Brighit is set down, without further clue for identification, in the Martyrology of Donegal, at the 30th day of September.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.


Valentine Trodd said...

Please note that on consulting (p. 229 - 230) of Baring-Gould's "The Lives of British Saints" Vol 1, I discovered that a holy virgin named Brig or Brigid had a church at Cluain Infide "on the banks of the Shannon". Further research in Carlisle's "Topographical Dictionary of Ireland" reveals that, "Finish Island, off the Barony of Islands, Co situated in the River Shannon where it receives the River Fergus. St Brigid, the daughter of Conchraid, of the family of Mactalius, presided over an abbey of nuns in the island of Inisfidhe, or Cluainfidhe,in the fifth century, in the time of St Senan."

With Regards,

Valentine Trodd

Marcella said...

Yes, the Life of Saint Senan is the only source to mention this particular holy woman. Whether she is the Brigid commemorated on September 30 is still an open question. Thanks for getting in touch.