St Brigid is one of the three patrons of Ireland, along with Kevin and Patrick. Her feast day was once a major point in Irish social life, heralding the first roots of spring and the prospect of winter’s end. In fact, it commandeered the Irish pagan festivity.
Brigid was born around AD 450, and though there is much debate about her life (in truth we can never know for certain) the standard biography has her born to Brocca, a Christian Pict slave who had been baptised by St Patrick, and the chieftain Dubhtach of Leinster. Brigid herself was born a slave, but from an early age was seen to be holy with various miracles attributed to her.
Around 480 she founded a monastery in Kildare, introducing women religious to the island for the first time. More miracles were associated with her, including the curing of leprosy and other ailments. She also rescued at least one woman from sexual slavery.
After her death in 525 she was buried in Kildare Cathedral. Her relics were removed to Downpatrick in the 10th century to protect them from the Vikings. Her head was later taken away and ended up in Lisbon.
Brigid’s cult grew very rapidly. St Bride’s church in the City of London is thought to have been founded by Irish missionaries in the early seventh century. Today Brigid remains a popular saint attached to a number of groups, especially children suffering from abusive parents or unstable families.