In Ireland, the first of February is Saint Brigid’s Day and seen by many as the first day of spring. Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints and was also known as a fertility goddess in Celtic mythology. Her day falls on the day of a pagan festival known as Imbolc, which celebrates the longer days and first signs of spring. Imbolc is one of four ‘fire’ festivals celebrated in Irish Mythology – the others being Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. St. Brigid is also know as “Mary of the Gael” and she was the founder of the first Irish monastery in Kildare.
Over centuries, people have made St Brigid’s crosses from rushes. These were traditionally made on the eve of St Brigid (31st January) and were hung in people’s house. The crosses were thought to protect the houses from evil, fire and hunger. Sometimes crosses were placed in the cow byre to protect the animals and to keep the milk flowing. For some, the cross was a symbol of peace and good will, and was offered as peace offering after a local quarrel.
There are a couple of different designs – the one I have photographed below is one I have made since childhood from rushes that grow wild in the fields. It is probably the most common design. There is also a three-armed one (one suggestion was that this was the one hung in the cow byres). If you are interested there is more information on http://www.crosscrucifix.com/brigid2.htm
Copies of the various crosses can also be seen at the Country Life Muesum in Turlough (http://www.museum.ie/en/collection/religion-and-calendar-customs.aspx)
I would not describe myself as a religious person. But I love the culture, folklore, traditions and stories that surround many of our saints. That is why tomorrow I will be spending some time with some local children helping keep the tradition of making the Brigid’s cross.