Saint Brigid of Kildare, also known as Mary of the Gael (Our Lady of the Irish) is held almost as high in the esteem of the Irish people as St Patrick. The date of her birth is uncertain, it is believed to have been between 451 and 458. Her mother Brotseach, was of the house of O’Connor and is believed to have been a slave belonging to Dubtach, a decendent of Con who was Brigids father. He sold her mother to a Druid just before Brigids birth. She was born at Faughart and baptized into the Christian faith shortly after.
Saint Brigid is famous for her generosity to the poor folk, she was put in charge of the dairy while she was still a child and one story tells that she gave away all the milk and butter and prayed when she realized there was none left for the family. Her mother visited the dairy and astonished by the amount of milk and butter, praised the dairy maids for their achievements. Brigid loved animals and there are many stories of her kindness to stray, hungry dogs.
Brigid decided to become a nun when she was old enough to marry. It is said that she left her home and traveled with seven other young girls to County Meath to see St Maccaile, who was the bishop. To begin with he was reluctant to accept them into the religious life, they were extremely young and he was doubtful they were truly sure that this was what they wanted. When Brigid and her companions went to the church to pray, there was a large congregation present, who were all astonished to see a column of fire descend from the roof of the church and rest on the top of Brigids head. On hearing of this, St Maccaile had no hesitation in admitting the eight young girls to the religious order.
Brigid founded a religious center at Cil-Dara, now called Kildare, which developed into a cathedral city, she also established a monastery and a convent for women and appointed St Conleth as pastor for them. Her other achievements include founding schools of art, metal work and illumination, these were also presided over by Conleth.
St Brigids miracles were numerous and included several which occurred on Easter Sunday. On one occasion a leper came to Brigid and asked her for a cow, she said she would help him later, as she needed to rest, but he didn’t want to wait and said he would go elsewhere. When Brigid offered to heal him instead, the man said that as a leper he would acquire more than if he was healthy! Brigid convinced him this was not the case and had the man washed in blessed water. The man was completely cured and remained in Brigids service.
Brigid died in 525 at the remarkable age for those days, of seventy five and was buried in front of the High Altar of her abbey. Much later her remains were exhumed and transferred to Downpatrick along with St Patrick and St Columcille. St Brigid is the female patron saint of Ireland and her special feast day is the 1st of February, this is the first day of spring in Ireland.