‘Lá Feile Brigid faoi mhaise duit’ I said to your man.
We were up in the low hills above Ravensdale with Jim Loughran the local Sinn Féin councillor. Jim is a wise man. This is his home patch. It is very beautiful. He knows every inch of it and every body in it.
‘Happy Saint Brigids Day’ I repeated to your man.
‘To you too mo chara’ he replied.
‘Brigid was a mighty woman’ I said. ‘we don’t know near enough about her. Today is the first day of Spring. The Celts marked February 1st as the festival of Imbolc. It announced the arrival of new life. A turning point in the Celtic year. February was the Mí na Féile Bríde. The month of the Festival of Brigid’.
‘That’s a terror’ Jim .
They say that a lot around these parts. At least that’s what it sounds like. A terror. Or it could be a tarra. Anyway terror or tarra this blog hasn’t a notion about what it means. There was a friend of mine in New York who was coming home last year to visit his ancestral home in the Louth/Armagh border country for the first time.
‘You know they have a saying there ‘That’s a terror’ that they say all the time in response to nearly anything’ one of his New York buddies warned him. My friend arrived home and dutifully told the story to his long lost cousin at their very first meeting.
‘That’s a terror’ his cousin agreed.
So I wasn’t surprised at Jim’s use of the phrase. It a bit like some Belfast people saying ‘what about ya? By way of a greeting. All localities have their own little phrases. Many of them from the Irish. In Dublin the greeting is ‘What’s the story’? In Derry its ‘Well’. I like ‘Dia duit’ (God be with you.)
When I was younger we used to say ‘A bully Mickey’ or ‘a bully Jimmy.’ Or a bully whoever we were greeting. We never talked to girls in those days which is why I say Mickey or Jimmy. Our acquaintances were male gendered only. Girls came later.
I don’t think Saint Brigid would have approved. She was a wise woman who upheld the rights of all women. She secured women’s property rights, freed women slaves and organised vulnerable women. She certainly would not have allowed male domination or men only associations.
‘She was a weaver. A peace weaver’ I told your man.
‘ Distinguished women were given that title in the olden days’ Jim informed us.
‘Such women were sometimes married into their enemy’s tribe to weave peace. These women had great negotiating skills’.
‘Saint Brigid did a lot of peacemaking work. She was a famous weaver and an authority figure in her time.’
‘Aye luk at her cross’. Your man agreed ‘ whoever would have thought of weaving a cross out of rushes.’
‘Thats the Christian Brigid’ I said. ‘ the abbess and the saint. But there is also the Celtic Brigid, the Godess of poetry,healing and smithwork.’
‘How do you know all this? Your man asked me.
‘I picked it up along the way. And I just read a piece by a woman called Mary Condren. She knows tons of stuff about Brigid ’
‘That’s a terror’ your man said.
‘This isn’t getting the vote out’ Jim reminded us.
‘T hat’s a terror as well’ I said ‘Beannachtai Bhríd daoibh. The blessings of Brigid to you all.’
Mary Condren ThD teaches at Trinity. She is the director of the Institute for Feminism and Religion.