Tuesday 7 February 2023

Saint Brigid's Fire

Although I have found many examples of verse in praise of Saint Brigid by nineteenth-century Catholic writers, below is one by a Protestant author, Alessie Bond (1841-1902), daughter of a Church of Ireland rector and wife to another. Although she would share with Catholic writers of the period an approval of Saint Brigid's womanly role as a practical exhibitor of Christian charity, there is no mention of our patroness here as the 'Mary of the Gael'. The Protestant tone of this lady's work is perhaps visible in the second verse with the reference to Saint Brigid learning that life was 'in Christ alone' and in the evangelical zeal of the final verse. I do find it somewhat ironic though that she has chosen for her theme the perpetual fire that supposedly burnt at Kildare, since this was a victim of the Reformation suppression of the monasteries and was reputedly extinguished on the orders of a bishop of her own church!


BY the wood of the oak, in green Kildare,
In a low stone cell of the chapel gray,
They have shown the place where a maiden fair
And a chieftain's daughter, knelt to pray.

She had heard the tidings by angels brought,
She had learn'd that life was in Christ alone;
She had clasp'd the faith the Apostles taught,
And had cast away her gods of stone.

On the things of Heaven she placed her mind,
And watch'd for the way her love to show;
She tended the sick and she led the blind,
And she taught the poor what they should know.

Saint Brigid died, but the legends tell,
She had lighted a flame where none now appears,
Charging her maidens to tend it well,
And it died not out for six hundred years.

Plunder and tempest and hostile band
Might ravage the valleys of green Kildare,
Might kill the peace of her lovely land,
But not that flame, nor her people's prayer.

Where is the fire of devotion now,
To burn through a lawless age and ill?
Shall clearer light show neglected vow.
And wiser virgins have fainter will?

Arise and shine! for the spell is o'er.
Wave high the torch they would rend away!
Let the words of God, as they were of yore.
Be the beacon of Erin till break of day !

Alessie Bond, The Cairns of Iona and Other Poems, (Dublin, 1873), 33-34.

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