Here’s one I made earlier! Tom Cox with his St Brigid’s Cross
IT’S no harm to see the back of January, although, to be fair, it hasn’t been the worst of months, weather wise. But there is nothing quite like the first day of February to put a spring in your step. That is particularly true this year, with the news that, in future years, the Feast of St Brigid will be marked by a national holiday. The recently announced public holiday (a thank you for the manner in which the country responded to the Covid pandemic), will fall on the nearest Monday to 1 February, or the Friday, if 1 February happens to fall on that day. Whether or which, a long weekend is guaranteed. And it doesn’t stop there. No less a person than Micheál Martin TD, our taoiseach, has declared that he is looking forward to the coming of this spring, more perhaps than any other, as the country casts off the bulk of the restrictions introduced almost two years ago. Indeed, he is not the only one in the corridors of power with an added spring in his step. The Kildare South TD and minister of state Martin Heydon welcomed the decision to introduce a new public holiday to mark St Brigid’s Day and the Gaelic festival of Imbolc. A happy day for him since, he tells us, he has been campaigning for many years for recognition for St Brigid. In a piece in the ***Kildare Nationalist***, he goes on to say that work is already underway on plans for an international celebration, Brigid 1500, in 2024, the 1,500 year anniversary of St Brigid’s death. Is it any wonder they call it the ‘Short Grass County’? Clearly, they don’t let it grow under their feet! Rightly, minister Heydon points out, there is an intrinsic link between St Brigid and Kildare. She is often referred to as St Brigid of Kildare. Call me picky, but it might be more correct to say Kildare of St Brigid, it being that Kildare is derived from the Gaelic Cill Dara (Cell of Oak), reputedly St Brigid’s first domicile in modern-day Kildare, from whence an Abbey was established. My first brush with St Brigid goes back over half a century to February 1961. We had migrated from Galway to Kildare the previous October and I had been installed along with my school-going brothers and sisters in St Brigid’s National School in Brownstown (though we always called it the Cut Bush school). I have no memory of making St Brigid’s crosses in Scoil Íde in Galway, though I was there long enough to make my First Communion. But in Miss Cullen’s room in St Brigid’s National School, in the week leading up to 1 February, we were up to our hocks in rushes. Nor was there any escape from the classroom to go and collect said rushes, though there was no shortage of them in the field behind the school. I should know – I got stabbed by them on many an occasion retrieving the ball after yet another goal was scored against me in ‘three goals and in’. The source of the raw material for us came from the back field at home. Unluckily for Miss Cullen, she failed to specify the amount of raw material which would be required. The collective enthusiasm for the task ahead saw the fields denuded of rushes, and moving mounds on little legs trudged their way to school, all contributing to the rushy mountain in the middle of the classroom floor. As for the construction of the cross, which I can still manage, Miss Cullen was a purist. No rubber bands to tie the ends – this would be achieved by winding an individual rush and tucking it in. Come to think of it, I don’t remember rubber bands being a very plentiful thing back then. Crosses were made for the classroom and also one to take home. Mine went into my bag and I ran the mile or so home, as usual. There were important tasks waiting at home. Playing with the dog in the back field, for example, and maybe a trip to the river, were uppermost. When my younger sister got home, she presented her cross to my mother. She had carried the precious cross carefully all the way home and it arrived in pristine condition. When my mother enquired expectantly about my cross, little did I know I was about to find out what a cross really was. It came out of my bag in instalments. How was I to know that I was disrespecting St Brigid by bashing her cross around in my bag? The dog was even in the doghouse. No playing in the back field until the cross was reconstructed. A poor comparison to my sister’s effort before it ever went into the bag, it remained a constant reminder, pinned up in the kitchen until the following year. A year on, I had learned my lesson. The 1962 model was carefully placed in a copybook before it went into the bag, then I ran home, as usual. For all I know, it might still be in the bag as it wasn’t asked for. That was the year my father went to the Congo. St Brigid’s crosses were not uppermost in our thoughts. St Brigid was a bit down the list that year. You will, no doubt, be happy to know that I’m not going to bore you by listing off St Brigid’s many miracles. The stock one in our day was the one about her asking the King of Leinster for as much land as her cloak would cover in order to build a monastery. The bemused king agreed to this strange request and Brigid lay down her cloak, which is said to have expanded to cover the entire Curragh Plains, believe it or not! The upshot of that miracle is that I have run, walked, cycled and even crawled on the Curragh Plains, rarely without thinking of St Brigid at some point. Happy St Brigid’s Day, one and all, and Happy Holiday for the future. Stay safe.