Devotion to St Brigid, one of our national patrons, is of ancient origin and would seem to have begun during her lifetime. Brigid’s cult grew to a status second only to that of Patrick, and to the Irish she was known as Mary of the Gael.
According to tradition, Brigid was born at Fochard Muirtheimne, a few miles north of Dundalk about 450 AD. Because of the strength of this tradition, the place was later known as Fochard Bríde.
It is believed that Brigid spent her early years in this scenic area of north Co Louth, and the ancient penitential ‘stations’ linked with St Brigid’s Stream have been performed here from ancient times. The original shrine remained largely in a primitive condition until the early 1930s, when the present shrine was erected by local labour and a national pilgrimage organised.
On the first Sunday in July 1934, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 assembled at Faughart. This great congregation included Eamonn de Valera, several Ministers of State, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and several members of Dublin Corporation.
In Faughart today St. Brigid’s Shrine is visited by hundreds of people from all over Ireland and pilgrims visit Fochard Bríde daily. Public pilgrimages are held during the year, a candlelight procession takes place on the Saint’s feast day (1 February), a Mass for the Sick is celebrated in early June and there is a national pilgrimage on the first weekend in July. At public pilgrimages the pilgrims are blessed with a relic of the saint.
There are various large shaped smybolic stones, that people touch and pray around. They firmly believe that St. Brigid’s powers are within those stones and can cure their ailments. People often visit the old church, to pray to St. Brigid and fetch Holy Water from the running stream.
Brigid died at Kildare on February 1 in 525 AD, she was laid to rest in a jeweled casket at Kil Dara. In 835, her remains were moved to protect them from Norse invaders, and interred in the same grave that holds the remains of St Patrick and St Columcille at Downpatrick. She is sometimes known as Bridget, Bride and Mary of the Gael. Her feast day is February 1.
So strong was the respect and reverence for this holy lady that she became the patroness of parishes, towns, and counties, not only in Ireland, but all across Europe and the America’s. She even had a symbol. As the shamrock became associated with St Patrick, a tiny cross made of rushes was linked with St Brigid. Woven by her while she explained the passion of Christ to a dying pagan, he was baptized before he died. Similar crosses are fashioned to this day as a defense against harm, and placed in the rafters of a cottage on the feast day of St. Brigid – February 1.