Tuesday, 31 January 2017
Saint Brigid's Eve
As promised, here's a little snippet about this auspicious day in the calendar. For farmers, the end of January marked a lengthening of the day, and if there was rain (not unheard of in Ireland) there might be an early growth of grass. For fisherfolk, the spring tide closest to St Brigid's Day was thought to be the greatest, with opportunities for collecting shellfish and cutting and gathering seaweed as fertiliser. At home, the house was spruced up and there was always some tasty dish, such as colcannon, apple cake or sowans to eat on the eve of the saint's day. (Don't know what sowans is? I'll tell you soon.) Butter was always part of the meal and because it was thought that the saint travelled around the island, blessing the houses, an offering was often left on a windowsill - a few pieces of bread and butter, say, or a cake. Some families left out a sheaf of corn for the refreshment of Brigid's favourite white cow, thought to accompany her. In addition, pieces of meat and dishes of salt were left out for the saint to bless, and after she'd passed by, these were believed to have acquired the power to heal and cure ailments.
Although we associate the barn brack with All Souls and All Saints, in November, a Frenchman named Coquebert de Montbret visited Galway in 1791 and reported that 'On St Bridget's Eve every farmer's wife in Ireland makes a cake called bairin-breac, the neighbours are invited, the madder of ale and the pipe go round and the evening concludes with mirth and festivity.'
I wish you mirth and festivity, too.
I'll be back soon.