KILDARE TOWN, Ireland — Revered by Pagan and Christian alike, the Irish figure of Brigid is perhaps the perfect symbol of the spirit needed in our troubled times. She left an inspiring legacy as a spiritual leader, peacemaker, woman of the land, advocate for the poor, and giver of hospitality.
And in her native County Kildare, Brigid is honoured at the Solas Bhride centre, run by the Brigidine Sisters.
In 2017, the centre has just used its annual Feile Bride festival to celebrate 25 years of work spreading her message to people of all faiths and none.
The order was founded in County Carlow in 1807, under Bishop Daniel Delany, as a restoration of an old order of St. Brigid that was started in the 5th century and ended in the Reformation.
In 1992, the order returned to Kildare, where Brigid had her last order. They opened Solas Bhride (Light of Brigid) with the aim of reconnecting with their Celtic roots and reclaiming Brigid in a new way for a new millennium.
The next year, the order hosted an international conference with Action from Ireland (Afri) to mark the 10th anniversary of Afri’s St Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign. During its opening, the Flame of Brigid that had been maintained by the old order was re-lit, and the sisters have tended it in Solas Bhride ever since. The annual festival of Feile Bride, celebrating St Brigid’s Day on February 1, also grew out of that original conference.
Solas Bhride seeks to honour Brigid’s legacy and stresses its relevance in the modern world by making the centre a place of welcome, tranquillity, and peace where people of all stripes can deepen their spirituality with reflection, prayer, ritual, education and culture.
In its mission statement, the centre says: “There is mystery at the heart of what holds us together, expressed in shared faith, symbols, stories and experiences. We engage with the issues of our time, stand in solidarity with the oppressed and seek to build a more inclusive community.”
The crowds that joined the celebrations of this year’s milestone festival were proof of its success. Hundreds turned out for the week-long Feile Bride schedule, which included rituals, prayer, reflection, talks, and St Brigid’s cross workshops.
Performers entertained crowds with poetry, music, song, and ceili (Irish dancing), while schoolchildren dramatised the legends of Brigid. Overall, there was a mix of pilgrimage and peace issues with a blending of the secular and the sacred.Contemporary subjects on the agenda included war, climate change, and forced migration – a subject that Féile Bríde has addressed throughout its 25 years and is still as relevant today, if not more so. Once again, the festival incorporated a peace and justice conference in collaboration with Afri and put a focus on the experience of refugees in Ireland.
One of the performers at the festival was popular folk singer Luka Bloom, who said: “Since 1993, at the start of every February, I have watched large groups of men and women gather in my home county of Kildare. They come to welcome the beginning of spring.
“They come to Kildare because it is the home of Brigid, whose feast day is February 1st. Brigid is the goddess of love, poetry, justice in pre-Christian Ireland, and she is the patron saint of Kildare. People also come to Kildare at this time to speak about justice in the world, or lack of it.”
Bloom continued: “There is reflection, talk, music, and dance. It is not a big trendy festival, but a gathering of people who want to celebrate the coming of spring, and who want to call Brigid’s qualities into the world, to light a spark for change.
“And every year we gather to welcome the light into our world; and to hope that more light will shine in the world; and that someday out of the darkness of war, hunger, greed, poverty, will come the light of community, sharing, justice, music, dance, peace and love.”
Solas Bhride has certainly shone a light, not only in Kildare and Ireland but around the world.The re-lighting of the Flame of Brigid in 1993 sparked global interest and the centre was invited to take it to the Royal Albert Hall in London and to conduct a ritual at the opening of the Conference on What Women Want, in preparation for the 1995 UN Women’s Conference in Beijing. The flame has also visited peace conferences in places including The Hague, Iona, Australia, New Zealand, the US.
And kindling the flame of knowledge, Solas Bhride has led workshops on Celtic spirituality in North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Northern Ireland, and Wales. The sisters were also invited to address the Goddess Conference in Glastonbury as “Catholic Sisters from Kildare.”
In April 2011, the Dalai Lama made a spiritual visit to Kildare Town organised by Solas Bhride and groups including Afri.
Looking to the future, Solas Bhride is placing an emphasis in its ministry work on leading those who visit Kildare from around the world on pilgrimage. Brigid’s Way, from Brigid’s Well in Faughart, County Louth, to her well and Solas Bhríde in Kildare, has recently become the 13th National Pilgrim Path in Ireland.
But the core message the sisters will continue to spread is that there are many ways in which each and every one of us can walk Brigid’s path.