Sunday 31 January 2021

Saint Bridget in Ireland

Tomorrow will be the feast of Saint Brigid and the article below describes for an expatriate audience many of the folk customs associated with the feast in the old country, some of which take place on the previous evening. It has been taken from an Australian newspaper of 1919 where it appears to have been syndicated from an American Catholic publication, the Ave Maria. In common with many other pieces on this theme at this time, the writer laments the passing of these traditions, in particular the falling popularity of the name Brigid and notes the adaptation of the homely diminutive 'Biddy' into the rather more polished-sounding 'Bidelia' by the younger generation.  In the nineteenth century 'Biddy' represented the stereotypical Irish peasant girl on music-hall stages and in popular culture so perhaps by 1919 she had had her day. I have never seen the name Bidelia before nor have I come across the other diminutive 'Jetty'. I have though encountered a surprising number of writings on this theme and wonder if it points to an underlying anxiety about the cultural influences of the host nation to which Irish immigrants were naturally subject. This writer ends by linking the folk customs of Saint Brigid's day with those of the eve of the feast of All Hallows and concludes that they are ultimately harmless:
St Bridget in Ireland
Of all the saints whom the Irish honour, St. Patrick is first and foremost in their affections, but there is another that is held in fond esteem and veneration: Saint Bridget, whose death occurred in the year 528. She is called the Patroness of Ireland. 
Old customs are rapidly vanishing in Ireland. Yet still the colleen, on the 1st. February, rises very early in the morning, and churns before the sun climbs in glory over the eastern hill; and if she has finished her work by that time, and hears the lark sing, then folk say that she will have success in all her doings for the year. For the lark is the bird of St. Bridget, ever since it was wont to awaken her in good time for Matins. To all who on the morning of her festival, hear its strains, it is a good omen for the year, also a sign of fine weather. 
Most of the oldtime customs associated with "Biddy's Day" — for so the Irish, with that apparently over-familiar, yet deeply reverent and reticent, trait of theirs, term the festival— are fast dying; but in remote places little girls still carry round a "bredogue" — a large doll resembling the "Morena" of the  Hungarian children,  and supposed to represent St. Bridget or Bride. 
In far-lying countrysides the folk usually place before their doors a mat made out of peeled rushes, in order that the Saint may come and kneel there to pray for the family. This they also do if there is illness in the dwelling. Irish girls born in February were formerly almost invariably named after the Saint. But to-day the name is no longer in such great favour, and some young women on whom the name has been bestowed have changed it into Bidelia. In the North of Ireland, as in Scotland, Bride is a popular form of the name; and the homely contraction of "Jetty" takes the place of the "Biddy" or "Bridgie" of the other parts of the island. 
On the eve of St. Bridget a silken riband is still occasionally placed on the windowsill in honour of the Saint; and is left out all night, during which time it is popularly supposed to grow longer. It is afterwards kept as a panacea for headaches, the cure being worked thus: the riband is drawn thrice round the patient's head, the following words being repeated at each round, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen!" and then the silk is knotted round the patient's head. 
These are a few of the customs in honour of St. Bride, of Bridget, that still linger in the Green Isle, where many kindly folk still put out a plateful of victuals on All Hallow Eve, for the wandering spirits of the dead and all the strange hosts of beings so real to the Irish peasant. If the griddle-cake and bowlful of milk, and the bit of bread and cheese, have vanished by the morning into the maw of some hungry beggar or even cat or dog, the donors are the better of it, and no one is the worse. — "Ave Maria."

 W.A. Record (Perth, WA : 1888 - 1922), Saturday 22 March 1919, page 8

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