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01st Feb 2023

We have St. Brigid to thank for our new bank holiday, but who exactly was she?

Katy Thornton

st. brigid bank holiday

We’d like to know who to give thanks to for our extra bank holiday.

We all rejoiced at the news of a new public holiday, especially since Ireland has some of the fewest bankers in all the EU. It’s in the name of St. Brigid that we get this honour, to take place as close to the 1st February as possible. St. Brigid’s Day (1st February) was originally a pagan festival called Imbolc, which signalled the beginning of spring.

According to Citizen’s Information:

“The public holiday will be the first Monday in February, except where St Brigid’s day (1 February) happens to fall on a Friday, in which case that Friday 1 February will be a public holiday.”

As such, the 2023 bank holiday will land on Monday 6th February this year. St. Brigid’s Day will be the first public holiday named after a woman in Ireland.

We know we have St. Brigid to thank for this blessed day, so we thought we’d do a bit of research into who exactly she is in Irish culture.

st. brigid bank holiday

Everything you need to know about St. Brigid

St. Brigid is one of the three Patron Saints of Ireland, sitting amongst National Saints such as Columba and Patrick (basically, she’s kind of a big deal). She’s known to have founded one of the most important convents in Ireland, based in County Kildare.

While I have admittedly limited prior knowledge of the Saint, I did know that the 1st February was St. Brigid’s Day, as well as the first official day of Spring. I’ll not hear any naysayers on this topic, those who think it begins in March are simply wrong.

There are many myths and legends around St. Brigid; the history books often get mixed up with fact and fiction when it comes to her. Unlike St. Patrick, there’s no historical record of St. Brigid, so what we know about her life is limited.

According to The Independent, there are three versions of St. Brigid: “the pagan Celtic goddess, the supernatural Christian saint, and the mortal, charitable and pioneering historical figure.”

Perhaps the most famous story about St. Brigid surrounds the legend of her cloak. When Brigid was refused by the King of Leinster the land to build a convent, she asked if she could have as much land as her cloak would cover. The King allowed this, but was surprised to see Brigid’s cloak grow and grow, as four of her friends took a corner each and walked pulled the cloak to cover many acres. The King then granted St. Brigid the land, and any other supplies she required, before converting to Christianity soon after.

St. Brigid’s Cross

You may recognise the sign of St. Brigid being a cross. On St. Brigid’s Day, the tradition is to make the cross out of reeds and display them around your home. This comes from the tale of St. Brigid saving a pagan man’s life by making one of these crosses and placing it beside him.

However there are many different versions of this tale, so it’s likely you’ve been taught something different about the beginning of this tradition; some versions say the man she saved was her father.

st. brigid bank holiday

Essentially it’s difficult to determine exactly what St. Brigid got up to in her day, but no matter what way you look at it she was an iconic figure in Irish culture and history. Whether she really prayed away her looks to avoid marriage (slay) or not, she is certainly someone to be revered, so we best all say a little prayer to her on our banker this Monday.

Header image via Shutterstock

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