Saturday 1 February 2020

The Mary of the Gael

Today to celebrate the Feast of Saint Brigid we have an account of our national patroness from the 1920s which was among a stash of interesting historical pieces I discovered at the online collections of the National Library of Australia.  It seems that the Australian press syndicated articles from the religious press around the world - the one below originated in the Catholic Pictorial, a publication I am unfamiliar with. The article is unattributed but the author has brought together the usual mix of modern poetry and episodes from medieval hagiography to present an edifying portrait of Saint Brigid and her meaning for the Irish people. It would have readily translated to the Irish diaspora in Australia where the presence of the redoubtable Patrick Francis, Cardinal Moran, as Archbishop of Sydney from 1884 to 1911, had resulted in his securing a relic of Saint Brigid for his adopted country. So, whether you are in Ireland or Australia or anywhere else in the world marking Lá Fhéile Bríde, Beannachtaí na Féile ort!


The Mary of the Gael.

The beauty of the King hath set thy soul on
A radiant rapture glows with thy eyes, thy
soul's desire
Leans up in ecstasy unto the angels' choir,
The beauty of the King hath set thy soul on

The beauty of the King hath caught and
chained thy heart.
No one, no one on earth can tear thy soul
From the great glowing love that binds thee
to His Heart,

The very fibres of thy soul are love, should love depart
Life too must fly with it.
 Thou livest in His Heart,
The beauty of the King hath caught and chained thy heart.

The beauty of the King hath set thy soul on flame,
A wondrous gladness brims within thy heart.
His sacred Name
Is honey to the lips which eagerly proclaim
The wonders of His love which set thy soul
on flame.

After the name of the glorious Apostle St. Patrick, there is none so dear to the hearts of the scattered Gael as that of St. Brigid. Saints and poets have sung her praises down the centuries, and bestowed on her the glorious title of 'Mary of the Gael.'

Faughart, near Dundalk, in the County of Louth, claims the honor of being her birthplace. Her parents were born Christians and descendants of the Kings of Ireland. From the beginning it was quite plain that Brigid was a child of grace, and that God had marked her out for some wonderful career.

She was instructed by St. Mel and made great progress in virtue, and in the love of God. By degrees she came to understand the vanity of earthly things, and the supreme importance of laboring for a heavenly inheritance. Looking up to Heaven one day the child said, 'This shall be mine,' and her life was one long effort to attain it.

When she made known her determination to leave the world and consecrate her life to God, all were against her. Her father and brothers were angry, and Brigid was sorely persecuted and tried. At the age of sixteen she said farewell to family and friends,' and accompanied by seven companions, received the religious1 veil from the hands of St. Macaille. This holy Bishop was their master in the spiritual life, and he took an interest in their temporal welfare and built a convent for them.

When the great day of their profession came, Brigid ,and her companions knelt before their humble altar to make their vows to the King of Kings. At that hour we are told that a bright light shone round our saint proclaiming her sanctity and her religious destiny as the light of Ireland. Her fame spread far and wide, and number of holy maidens came to join her Community. The time was at hand when she could go forth through the land to assist and console the heart of Ireland's aged apostle.

Holy Recollection.

It would be a mistake to think that in her external labors, she forgot for a moment the recollection and devotion of a consecrated religious life. Her miracles and works were extraordinary, but her constant union with God was still more wonderful. She herself confessed to St. Brendan, 'The Son of the Virgin knoweth that from the hour I set my mind on God I never took it from Him.'

Though a shining example of all virtues, mercy and love of the poor and suffering were the chief characteristics of her life. One day the Bishop gave a beautiful discourse on the Beatitudes. Each of the sisters chose one for a special devotion. Brigid herself chose mercy.

Every page of her life testifies to her love for the afflicted of all kinds, and most of her miracles were worked in favor of the poor. With good reason one of our modern poets writes: —

'O Saint thou favorite of the poor,
The wretched, weak and weary,
Like Mary's was the face she bore,
Men called her 'Erin's Mary.'

In her lowliness and humility she washed the feet of lepers and travelled far and wide to release poor captives. Her sweetness and pity softened and charmed all, and every prison door was opened to her. Her apostolic labors extended over the four provinces, and everywhere she succeeded in founding convents. In these the young women were taught everything necessary to make them worthy of a new Christian nation.

What she loved herself she and her nuns taught to others, namely, constant piety, early rising and hospitality. St. Brigid was offered many suitable places for her foundation. Soon one was chosen, and there amid great rejoicings her church and convent were commenced. A giant oak spread out its strong branches to protect as it were the little Community that now nestled in its shade. Hence the name of that ever-glorious foundation Kildare — 'The church of the Oak.'

Like that giant oak, Brigid's monastic settlement beginning in this humble way, grew in beauty and strength mid storm and shine. Kildare grew to be a great school from which went forth teachers to Ireland, England and Scotland.

Great masters assembled at Kildare to teach science and art, and while students learned these, they also drank in virtue and piety. Besides St. Patrick, to whom Brigid was a most dear child, there were many other illustrious saints and bishops who were united to her in the closest friendships and often came to ask her wise counsel.

She assisted at the death-bed of St. Patrick. At his desire she had made his winding-sheet and brought it with her to wrap round his holy body.

After his death St. Brigid redoubled her efforts in the interests of the Irish Church, and worn out with labors she breathed forth her, pure soul to God on the first day of February, 525, at the age of eighty-seven.

Though many centuries of storm and strife have passed over the Irish race since the land was hallowed by the footsteps of St. Brigid, still her holy life and example are daily producing fruit in the Church. To-day thousands of the daughters of Erin are giving up, as she did, friends, home and country to carry on the glorious apostolate begun so long ago under the great oak at Kildare.

—'Catholic Pictorial.'

ST. BRIGID. (1926, December 16). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1850 - 1932), p. 47. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from

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