By John McGrath
There was Brigid, the sainted one,
who begged her father, Dubhthach,
King of Leinster, for some land,
enough to raise a shelter for her friends,
from where their kindnesses could flow
and flourish, benefit the poor and needy.
But being of spirit niggardly,
the king would not relent and so
she pressed him further, ‘Grant me ground,
as much as I can cover with my cloak!’
He scoffed at Brigid’s folly and agreed.
So Brigid shook the cape before her,
called her sisters, bade them take an edge.
They pulled towards each compass point
and as they pulled, they prayed, until
the pious cloth had stretched a mile or more.
‘Enough, take what you need!’ cried Dubhthach,
‘Choose your ground and call your maidens home,
lest they lay claim to half my kingdom.’
Such was the power of Brigid of Kildare
Who raised her Church of Oak above the shrine
of Goddess Bríd, where burned her endless flame,
now Brigid’s too, their name and deeds entwined forever.
For Bríd of many names had gone before,
older by far than Brigid of the Mantle.
She who put songs and music in the air
before the bells of chapels rang in the West
or echoed in the East; before Patrick himself.
Bríd that breathes in the reeds and on the wind
and in the hearts of women and in the minds of poets.
Banmór-na-mara, Lady of the sea, Daughter of Lir,
who lost her brother Manan to a wicked fate,
wept and searched lamenting for three hundred years
until at last she found him, coaxing him with song
back to the world of men, so ships could sail again
and nets once more be filled with wave-fruit.
Bríd, Goddess of Forge and Hearth, Daughter of Fire,
whose nineteen virgins, Keepers of the Flame,
have kept your name alive since prayer began.
And we, your humble children, chant your song
for you have long been life’s-breath in our hearts,
torch to our dry-grass thoughts, our poets’ dreams.
© January 2021 John McGrath