Traditions relating to St. Brigid abound on the island of Ireland, but did you know that Brigid is honoured in diverse cultural contexts around the world?
Residents in the Republic of Ireland are looking forward to a new annual public holiday. Corresponding to the Catholic feast day of St. Brigid (Irish: Naomh Bríd), this holiday will celebrate the arrival of Spring. From pre-Christian Ireland to the present day, the Goddess Brigid is celebrated during the festivities of Imbolc which traditionally marked the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
The Dictionary of Celtic Mythology notes that at least 19 churches dedicated to St. Brigid of Kildare (Scottish Gaelic: Brìde or Brìghde) were found across Scotland, Wales, England and the Isle of Man before the Reformation. Argyll and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland were particular strongholds of devotion to St Brìde during the Middle Ages. Historians believe that her cult was particularly strong among Gaelic-speaking people in the region.
The Hebrides islands also have a long history of customs linked to Irish traditions such as the St. Brigid’s cross and the Brideog, a doll or effigy of St Brigid that was taken from house to house in a locality on the eve of her feast day.
Bride’s Mound in Glastonbury is also associated with a legend of St. Brigid. The saint is said to have visited the site in the 5th century and the Celtic festival of Imbolc continues to be marked there today.
Energies and characteristics associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid are also found in Haitian Vodoun and New Orleans Voodoo.
Vodou is a syncretic religion blending Fon, Kongo, and Yoruba practices from Africa with French Catholicism. Vodou developed in the Caribbean between the 17th and 19th centuries at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Maman Brigitte is one of the most important lwa (pronounced loa) or ‘spirits’ in Vodou. She is the only goddess in the Vodou pantheons (nanchon) whose origins do not lie in Africa. Some of Vodou’s characteristics originate in the interactions between enslaved people from Africa and indentured servants from Ireland whose cultures and religious traditions were shared and blended over time.
Maman Brigitte is sometimes symbolised by a black rooster. She is known to be a powerful healer, a protectress of women, and is also associated with death and burial places.
The Power of a Name
The name ‘Bridget’ is an Anglicised version of the Irish St. Brigid or Bríd meaning “strength or exalted one”. The spelling of ‘Bridget’ is also commonly used in referring to the 14th century Swedish St. Birgitta whose feast day is July 23rd.
For Irish emigrants in the United States, Bridget has been a popular choice of girl’s name for over 200 years. In 2021 Bridget was the 722nd most commonly chosen girl’s name in the US and in the UK it ranked 710th.
Irish women and their descendants carried the name Bridget around the world from Fermanagh-born Canadian social activist and author Bridget Moran, to second generation Irish American actress and model Bridget Moynahan. The story of Bridget Lawlor, one of many Irish nurses who emigrated to the UK in the 20th century, is featured at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum.
In recent years the feast day of the patroness saint has evolved to become an important celebration of Irish women. The growing significance of St. Brigid’s Day can be seen in the array of cultural events hosted by diaspora organisations around the world.
Across the Atlantic in Boston, the Irish Cultural Centre is hosting a St. Brigid’s Day celebration where panelists will discuss “women in leadership, drawing on the legacy of Brigid in Irish literature and tradition, and give their reflections on the inspirational women in their own lives.
Last year, The Irish Patchwork Society with support from the Irish Foreign Ministry unveiled a unique St. Bridget’s Day project. Patchwork designs created by Irish diaspora quilters from across the globe were combined at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. The result was a monumental patchwork honouring the vibrant global connections to Brigid of Kildare – as well as a nod to the famous legend of St. Brigid’s cloak.
Explore the history and traditions of St. Brigid’s Day with the EPIC History-At-Home pack and craft tutorial videos.
Amano Miura for EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
Brigidine Sisters, (2022), ‘Legend of St. Brigid’s Cloak’, Online
Early Christianity in Uist Project, (2021), ‘Bride’, Online
Glastonbury Information Centre (2018), ‘Bride’s Mound’, unitythroughdiversity.org : Online
MacKillop, J., (2004), ‘Brigid’ In A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press: Online
Nameberry.com (2023), ‘Baby Girl Names: Bridget’, Online
Newgrange.com (2023), ‘Imbolc’, Online
New York Latin Culture Magazine (2023), ‘ Celebrate Maman Brigitte, the Haitain Loa of Death and Life’, Online
Normal for Glastonbury (2022), ‘Bride’s Mount in Glastonbury: Interview with Dr Serena Roney-Dougal’, Online
President and Fellows of Harvard College (2020), ‘Vodou, Serving the Spirits’ In
The Pluralism Project. Harvard University: Online
Wigington, P. (2019), ‘Maman Brigitte, Loa of the Dead in Voodoo Religion’. Learn Religions: Online