Yesterday, the Irish diaspora in Kenya gathered together at an event hosted by the Irish Society and the Irish Embassy to mark St Brigid’s Day, also known as Lá Fhéile Bríde and Imbolc.
This year’s celebration period coincides with the centenary of three seminal moments in Irish history – the meeting of the first Dáil (parliament), the women winning the vote in Ireland and the start of the War of Independence against Britain.
Meeting at the Mansion House on Dawson Street in Dublin the Dáil proclaimed an independent Irish republic but after being outlawed by the British government in September 1919, thereafter it met in secret.
Commenting on the Kenyan event, Irish Deputy Head of Mission Lisa Doherty said they “commemorated momentous moments in Irish history and the incredible mná na hEireann (Women of Ireland) who made them happen.”
Imbolc is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring, held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, and corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau. For Christians, especially in Ireland, it is the feast day of Saint Brigid.
Mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature, there is evidence it has been an important date since ancient times. Originally, it is believed to have been a pagan festival associated with the Gaelic fertility goddess Brigid and that it was Christianized as a festival of Saint Brigid.
The fifth century Saint Brigid, also known as Mary of the Gael, is said to have given sight to the blind, speech to the mute and a cure to the lepers and remains to this day one of Ireland’s best-loved saints.
At Imbolc, Brigid’s crosses were made and a doll-like figure of Brigid, called a Brídeóg, would be paraded from house-to-house by girls, sometimes accompanied by ‘strawboys’. Brigid was said to visit one’s home at Imbolc. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, while items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brigid was also invoked to protect homes and livestock. Special feasts were had, holy wells were visited and it was also a time for divination.