1 February, the Feast of St. Brigid (or Bridget).
‘On Saint Brigid’s Day the country people make little wooden crosses and fix them to the roof over the door. The crosses may still be seen in the farmer’s houses throughout the country. Sometimes up to twenty crosses can be seen’.
Nancy Reynolds, Girl’s National School, Clarecastle, 1937. Schools Folklore Collection, Dept. of Folklore, UCD, Vol. 0607, p.462.
We wonder if any of the little wooden crosses survive?
St. Brigid’s crosses are associated with St. Brigid of Kildare, one of the patron saints of Ireland. Before St. Brigid, the pagan festival of Spring, or Imbolc, was associated with the pre-Christian goddess, Brighid, patroness of poets and smiths, protector of livestock and goddess of healing.
A huge number of placenames, churches and schools remember St. Brigid in Ireland. In Ballyea the townland of Lismulbreeda is called after the saint. In the audio clip below, the late Stephen Sheedy from Lismulbreeda, explains the meaning of the name and describes the holy well, St. Brigid’s Well, after which the townland was named.
Stephen Sheedy in conversation with Catherine O’Connor and Gerry Breen, 29 July 2013
As described by Stephen, it was believed that the waters of the well would cure sore eyes. In the folklore of the parish, Nora Casey also remembered the well and the curing of a girl from Kilrush.
‘St. Brigid’s Well at Lismeallbreeda is in a field and is overshadowed by a big tree. At this well sore eyes are cured from time to time. After visiting it three times and washing her eyes with the water, a girl from Kilrush was cured of sore eyes. Long ago people did rounds there but this custom has died out now. One time the well was disused and it dried up but it again appeared a little distance away from where it was first. There is a statue of St. Brigid placed on an altar beside the Well. On this altar pilgrims leave blessed pictures, crucifixes and medals after them’.
Nora Casey, Killerk, Girl’s National School, Ballyea, 1937. Schools Folklore Collection, Dept. of Folklore, UCD, Vol. 0607, p. 221.
On the the feast day of St. Brigid, people weave a cross from rushes or straw and hang it up over the door or in the house to protect the occupants from evil, fire and hunger. Typically, the cross has four arms tied at the ends and a woven square in the middle. Historically, there were also three-armed versions.
Rushes can be found growing in the wetland areas surrounding the quay area of Clarecastle and low lying farmland areas. Many of these areas are becoming scarce due to development and land drainage. Wet land areas in Clarecastle are essential feeding grounds for Curlew, Oyster Catcher, and Snipe. In recent times the Clarecastle Daycare Centre residents have made St. Brigid’s crosses as part of their fundraiser events. The Clarecastle Women’s Club, recently formed, have made crosses for the first time.