Girl power! A timely salute to St Brigid - Irish feminist icon

Brigid has all we are looking for in a modern feminist icon - so says Katriona Devereux
Girl power! A timely salute to St Brigid - Irish feminist icon

A spectacular Herstory Light Show in 2021 - the ‘matron saint’ St Brigid has been reinvented in various ways down the centuries.

LORDY, it’s the first of February tomorrow and with it comes the promise of warmer days, new beginnings, green shoots, and all the good things that herald the traditional start of spring and )whisper it) the end of winter.

It’s also St Brigid’s Day and next Monday we can indulge in a new bank holiday, thanks to our matron saint finally getting her very own national holiday.

In school, I made the odd St Brigid’s cross over the years, but to me she was just another saint in the pantheon of imaginary people who you could pray to to help you find something (St Anthony) or sort your hopeless case (St Jude) or get the Cork hurlers to win an All-Ireland (St. Finbarr?).

I never did the praying, I just heard other people suggest it as a viable solution for finding a lost wedding ring.

I had little appreciation of Brigid’s ancient Celtic goddess status, or how she was adopted by Christianity, until last year when the movement Herstory started campaigning for Ireland’s new national holiday to be in honour of Brigid.

She was considered the goddess of healing, fire, and poetry. She is associated with fertility and with domesticated animals. Over the centuries, the Celtic legends of the goddess Brigid blended with the Christian stories of St Brigid of Kildare.

Brigid has all we are looking for in a modern feminist icon - challenging the status quo, respecting the environment, and establishing and leading community movements.

She founded and ruled a double egalitarian monastery for men and women in 580 AD, smashing the glass ceiling before such architectural niceties were even invented.

She also had, if the artistic representations are anything to go by, a fantastic head of hair. 

If Brigid was running for the next election in the Kildare South constituency, she would be shoe-in.

No doubt there will be attempts to co-opt Brigid’s trailblazing role model to try and to sell us something. Keep a cynical eye out for ads or commercial communication dressed up as a feeling, trying to hijack Brand Brigid to flog stuff.

Unlike the green beer and Made-in-China-oversized-leprechaun-hats paddywhackery that has become associated with St Patrick’s Day in March, I hope our February bank holiday becomes a day to recognise positive feminine power, embrace new beginnings, and up efforts to create the truly egalitarian society that Brigid started to build a millennium ago.

CAO deadline

For many homes around the city and county, Brigid and the first of February will have no significance. Instead the date will be circled red on the fridge calendar with the words ‘CAO deadline’ underlined twice.

It’s the day for sixth year students to decide what courses they are choosing at third level, therefore determining the rest of their entire lives!

Of course, most people over 21 have an appreciation that the Leaving Cert and third level education is not the be all and end all when it comes to determining your future, but when you’re in the thick of being 18 or 19 and are contemplating life beyond June, 2023, it can be pretty daunting for some.

It’s more than two decades since I filled in a CAO form and it’s mad that almost the exact same system exists at measuring a narrow field of academic achievement.

It’s important to remember at these heightened times that not everyone needs a university degree.

We will always need a steady stream of engineers, scientists, doctors and third level graduates to fuel the smart economy, but what the country really needs right now, and into the future, is do-ers. Block layers, electricians, plumbers and builders are the steel-toed boots on the ground that we need to build our way out of the housing crisis and into a sustainable, decarbonised world.

While it’s great to graduate with a computer science degree and go and work in a transnational tech company earning a generous wage and playing pool at lunchtime in a brightly decorated office, the people who are really going to transform Ireland and make it a better place for all, are those unafraid of hard work, willing and able to get their hands dirty.

There is a skills shortage across Ireland in nearly every sector from bar staff to mechanical engineers to nurses. A whole host of tradespeople and skilled workers are desperately needed to get on with retrofitting and constructing homes and building the infrastructure that is going to allow us to break free from fossil fuels.

Last week, it was revealed that the Housing Commission, established by the government itself to examine housing policy, thinks Ireland needs to build approximately 62,000 houses a year up to 2050.

The Irish population is going to continue to grow, refugees from conflict zones and countries severely affected by climate change are going to continue to arrive.

The United Nations says that extreme weather events are already causing more than 20 million people to move each year. As places around the world become uninhabitable, we are going to need houses for a lot of people.

The government has launched ‘Generation Apprenticeship’ in an effort to get “school leavers, older learners, career changers, women and men with diverse backgrounds, talents and abilities” to develop the skills that Ireland needs.

There are lots of meaningful jobs that will make the world a better place that don’t require 500 points in the Leaving Cert, and I hope the sixth years of Ireland remember that tomorrow when they fill in their CAO form.

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