Thursday, 7 February 2013

'Brigide was base Daughter of Dubtachus' - a 16th century English View

There is an interesting 16th-century view of Saint Brigid recorded in the work of an English writer, which I reproduce below. The writer is himself accounted among the saints for he is none other than the English martyr Edmund Campion (1540-1581). Campion spent a few months in Ireland under the protection of the Stanihurst family and produced a short history of Ireland in which he devotes a chapter to its saints. Unfortunately, the History relied heavily on the work of the 12th-century Anglo-Norman chronicler, Gerald of Wales, and tended to echo the colonialist tone of his view of the natives. This incensed Irish priest and historian, Geoffrey Keating (c.1569-1644), who placed Campion's name on a list of those who had defamed the Irish people and their achievements.  In the extract below, taken from an early 19th-century reprint of A Historie of Ireland, written in the year 1571, I have not modernized the spelling as the text is quite readable. I note that there is no use of the apostrophe to denote possession as in modern English, but this archaic language has a charm of its own. I particularly enjoyed the description of Saint Brigid as having 'allured' others to her fellowship and the depiction of her father's wife as a 'shrewe'.  Interestingly, despite expressing this rather negative view of female nature, Saint Edmund does not hesitate to pay tribute to the wisdom of Saint Brigid saying that 'not onely the multitude, but a whole synode of Bishoppes assembled by Dublin, used her advice in weighty causes, and highly esteemed her'.  He has also selected the account of her giving away the royal sword to aid the poor, a fitting illustration indeed of the charity and humanity of Ireland's patroness. This episode also demonstrates Saint Brigid's courage, something the English martyr himself would need in the trials that lay ahead. The piece ends with what may be a reference to the 'Book of Kildare':
Brigide was base Daughter of Dubtachus a Captaine in Leinster, who perceiving the Mother with child, sold her secretly, fearing the jealousy of his wife, to a Irish Poet, reserving to himselfe, the fruite of her wombe, she was there delivered of this Brigide, whom the Poet trained up in letters, and so conveyed her home to her father. The Damosell was schooled in the faith by S. Patricke, preaching then in those parts, she became so religious, and so ripe in judgement, that not onely the multitude, but a whole synode of Bishoppes assembled by Dublin, used her advice in weighty causes, and highly esteemed her. One fact of hers being yet a childe, made her famous. The King of Leinster had given to Dubtachus in token of singular affection, for his good service, a rich sword. Now it befell, that the maiden visiting her sicke neighbours, diversly distressed for hunger, (her father being a sterne man, his Lady a shrewe) she saw none other helpe to releive these wretched people, but to part the Iewels of that idle sword among them. This matter was haynously taken, and came to the Kings eares, who (comming shortly after to a Banquet in her fathers house) demaunded the Girle, not yet nine yeares old, how she durst presume to deface the gift of a King, shee answered, that it was bestowed upon a better King, then hee was, whom (quoth she) finding in such extremity, I would have given all my father hath, and all that thou hast, yea your selves and all, were yee in my power to give, rather then Christ should starve.

At convenient age she professed virginity, and allured other noble Virgins to her fellowship, with whom she lived in her owne Monastery, untill the yeare of our Lord 500. and was buried at Downe, in the Tombe of S. Patricke, what Cambrensis reporteth of his own knowledge and sight, I will be bold to add  hereunto.

Among her reliques, was found a concordance of the 4. Evangelists, seeming to bee written with no mortall hand, beautified with mysticall pictures in the margent, whose colours and workemanship, at the first blush were darke and unpleasant, but in the view wonderful liuely and artificiall.

A Historie of Ireland, written in the yeare 1571 (Dublin, 1809), 61-63.

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