How did a Celtic Goddess become the patron saint of Ireland?

How did a Celtic Goddess become the patron saint of Ireland?

Saint Patrick gets a lot of attention both in Ireland and around the world. But what of Ireland’s other patron saint, Brigid?

February 1st is St Brigid’s day, an inclusive feast that can and has been celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Indeed, this feast pre-dates the Christianisation of Ireland. Before there were any saints in Ireland people were celebrating this day and this woman.

The ancient Celts called February 1st Imbolc, it was one of four seasonal Gaelic feasts (the other three being Samhain, Bealtaine and Lughnasagh).  

Imbolc was an auspicious day for the ancient people of Ireland going back at least two thousand years. The feast marks the end of the winter and celebrates the first signs of Spring. Still in modern Ireland Spring is said to begin on February 1st.

There is a Neolithic (stone-age) passage tomb at Tara called The Mound of The Hostages. This tomb is very like the well-known Newgrange. On the morning of Imbolc this tomb is completely illuminated by the Spring sunshine as its tiny doorway aligns perfectly with the rising Spring sunshine.

The Mound of The Hostages ancient tomb at Tara.

The Mound of the Hostages tomb is magically illuminated by dawn sunshine at Imbolc and the Samhain. Thanks to Mary Gibbon of Newgrange Tours for this “inside” photo.

There can be no doubt that to the ancient people who orchestrated such an event, the beginning of February was a special time.

The word Imbolc comes from the Gaelic “i mbolg” or in the belly, most likely referring to pregnancy. This was a time of rebirth, regrowth and the lengthening of the daylight hours. With more daylight came more work. The farming communities were busy as the ewes were giving birth or already lactating. Within the household, it was customary to utilise the extra light to do a “Spring-clean” of the home.

Imbolc was a festival of hearth and home with tributes to the Goddess Brigid being an important part of the feast.

According to Irish mythology Brigid belonged to the Tuatha Dé Danann. She was the daughter of the Dagda or chief druid. The Tuatha Dé Danann is a collective term for the Gods of pre-Christian Ireland. Each member of the Tuatha was associated with a particular aspect of life or nature and thus became the God/Goddess of that event.

Brigid was the Mother Goddess of fertility, healing, poetry, smith craft, and midwifery. Naturally her feast day was Imbolc. Brigid was closely associated with sacred flames and holy wells.

When Ireland converted to Christianity many pagan traditions were carried over to the new faith. The Goddess Brigid became Saint Brigid.

The St Brigid’s cross is traditionally made of reeds and its origin is also thought to be pre-Christian. The woven square in the middle closely resembles the structure of the prehistoric sun cross.

St Brigid’s Cross

The traditional St Brigid’s cross has become a symbol of Ireland. It can be mounted in an elegant frame or presented simply like the one here to make a thoughtful gift for friends and loved ones.

Thanks to World Prayer Gifts for sharing this photo.

Today in Ireland the St Brigid’s cross makes the perfect gift to a family who have recently welcomed a new arrival or moved into a new home. When placed above the doorway, the cross is thought to confer protection to the home and those within.

Women and alcohol – abstinence makes the liver grow stronger

Women and alcohol – abstinence makes the liver grow stronger


Since 1995, Irish teenage girls have been drinking as much and sometimes more than their male counterparts, according to Alcohol Action Ireland.

That’s us ladies. The now late 30’s/early 40’s generation of women. We broke the trend and started consuming alcohol like no other generation of women before us.

Many of us are now Mothers. We drink at home, sometimes when the children are there.

Many of us are readers and/or writers of the female blogging community. We normalise our alcohol consumption with funny memes and Facebook posts.

We don’t hear the scary warnings from the medical community. Professor Frank Murry, president of the Royal College of Physicians spoke on RTE’s Radio Ireland last summer. His prognosis was rather stark. I found it hard to listen.

Many people are over-doing it with alcohol and don’t even realise it, he warned. Liver blood tests may not indicate how damaged your liver actually is.

Now for the really frightening part. You might think you’re fine, maybe a bit tired sometimes. According to Professor Murry, patients often arrive in hospital with severe liver damage having no idea what’s wrong with them and then they die.

While well-intended I suspect that this kind of communication may not be reaching the people who really need it.

If you’re anything like me, the thought of sudden liver failure followed by almost immediate death might actually drive you to drink.

So, in the midst of my dry January I am thinking more about benefits than risks. I’m focusing on what happens when I stop drinking. It’s this information that really motivates me to give up the bold stuff.

1. Better sleep.

Drinking makes us drowsy and fall asleep quickly. However a disturbed sleep is usually what follows. After consuming alcohol, the brain behaves the way it would normally when awake and resting. The result is poor quality sleep, often followed the next day by confusion and irritability.

Sleep is a mood stabiliser. When we are well-rested and fresh, every-day decisions and tasks become easier. Ditching the booze brings clarity and energy to our lives.

2. Weight loss.

In addition to the empty calories contained in our favourite drink (125 calories/glass of wine) alcohol increases our appetite. Studies show that women in particular, eat more when they drink.

One hour after the last drink our liver starts to work hard to metabolise and remove the alcohol from our bodies. The pancreas then produces extra insulin which in turn lowers blood sugar. And boom we’re hungry; but not for a fresh fruit salad or low-fat yogurt. We crave fat and carbohydrate. The people who run the local fish and chip shop already know about this phenomenon.

Swapping booze for will-power makes it much easier to control sugar cravings and stick to a healthy diet.

3. Better skin.

Women are the target market for a million and one skin-care products. Creams, lotions, face masks, multi-vitamin and herb extract supplements. Instead of adding something that costs money and has dubious science behind it, why not remove something that we know is not good for our skin?

It only takes a few days without alcohol to see an improvement in skin condition and a brighter complexion. Alcohol is a diuretic which means it increases fluid loss through urination and sweating. Cutting out alcohol improves hydration and can alleviate the symptoms of common skin conditions such as eczema and dandruff.

4. Improved liver function.

Drinking large volumes of alcohol, even for just a few days causes fat to accumulate in the liver. This condition is very common and has no symptoms. If not treated, fatty liver will lead to liver disease. The treatment is free. Stop drinking.

The liver is one of the most complex organs in the human body and it has an amazing capacity to regenerate and self-heal. If, you allow it.

Some sources, like the NHS advise that even giving up alcohol for two weeks can have a large impact on liver health.

Staff at New Scientist tested out the effect of dry January on their own livers. The results were incredible. After only one month without alcohol, participants had reduced their liver fat by 15-20%.

A healthy liver will boost immunity, metabolism and general vitality. Give it a chance and it will make your life healthier.

5. Money saved.

Drinking at home is definitely less costly than drinking out. However, popping an extra bottle or two of wine into the shopping trolley can mask how much we are actually spending on booze. Putting aside money that would normally be spent on drink and seeing how it adds up can really be an eye-opener. When we think about it, is it really money well spent?

If you’ve decided that dry January is not for you who can blame you. January is a tough month after the fun and frolics of Christmas.

But why not dry February? January might be the darkest month of the year but February is the shortest. A quiet month too, it’s really just a gateway month to March.

Ah March, that’s the one, Mother’s Day, St Patrick’s day, not to mention the rugby.

A lot of opportunity to enjoy a drink, if you’re so inclined.

The backlash against Ryan Gosling

The backlash against Ryan Gosling


In his acceptance speech at the Golden globes Ryan Gosling gave tribute to his “lady”, Eva Mendes.

It wasn’t a pretty image that Mr Gosling presented us with. He described how he was out “singing and dancing” while his wife was at home raising their daughter and pregnant.

Is it just me or was he brave to admit?

Narjas Zatat wrote in the British online edition of The Independent that Ryan Gosling’s remarks were sexist.

Eva Mendes, by “putting her career on the back burner for the sake of her husband’s” reflects the “structural inequality” of the workplace.

Perhaps there was a hint of the “behind every great man” about Gosling’s speech.

I think we are all weary of hearing this argument. Mainly because it does a disservice to both men and women. 

The counter argument of course is that women have always been the ones to take on the more nurturing roles. But the notion that women are better carers is sexist. Sexual stereotyping is not good for either gender.

Eva Mendes wasn’t on the stage to speak for herself. We don’t really know what motivated her to make the career choices she made.

There could be truth in the idea that she put her career on hold so that Gosling could “further his own career” as suggested in The Independent.

I would like to suggest an alternative truth however. Could it be that Eva Mendes is not a victim of domestic inequality or sexism?

During the debate on sexual inequality some very important people have been forgotten.

The children.

Maybe Eve Mendez sacrificed her career not for her husband but for the benefit of her children.

Another bold suggestion. Maybe she did it for herself, because parenting your own children is the most rewarding and empowering experience that life can offer.

Maybe the real loser after all is Mr Gosling. The man who gave up the opportunity to raise his own children in favour of a “singing and dancing” career.

Nollaig na mBan – a quiet Irish Tradition that needs reviving

Nollaig na mBan – a quiet Irish Tradition that needs reviving


The twelfth and last day of Christmas. An auspicious date in many cultures, with various associated traditions.

In Ireland Janruary 6th is Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas.

It’s an old tradition that women take a break on this day. There are not too many written accounts documenting this custom.

The date is also referred to as Nollaig Bheag (Little Christmas). It was the female answer to Nollaig Mór or Christmas day, when women worked hard serving and preparing food. This was a time when all of the preparations for Christmas both domestic and financial fell to the woman of the house.

After the men and children had their share of the goodies and celebrations the women would put aside their household responsibilities for an afternoon. As Christmas ended for another year they gathered to relax, to eat cake and drink tea.

Irish pubs were no place for women. On January 6th, however, it was not unusual to see women drinking stout together in a pub. The tradition was particularly strong in rural Ireland.

I spoke to many people to seek first-hand accounts of Nollaig na mBan, but they were very scarce on the ground. Women from Tipperary, Galway and Donegal had no recollection of their Mother’s celebrating this day. Ironically enough, the only two people who remembered were men!

One man, of 86 who grew up in Donegal could recall little except that his Mother ate cake with other women. When I asked him about Nollaig na mBan his reply was simple “sure that was the Mother’s day”.

The practice of women meeting to take a break after the domestic avalanche of Christmas is not, I believe, a bad one.

We have come a long way in terms of domestic and parental equality but for many women and mothers Christmas means a lot of extra work.

I find preparing for Christmas stressful. When the sun goes down on December 25th I breathe a sigh of relief. Especially when I see that the children are happy with their gifts and goodies.

They may have been before my time but I understand why these women felt the need to get together on January 6th. Modern Christmas can also be overwhelming. With schools closed, lots of rich food about and no routine, things do get a bit hairy.

When I think back to my own childhood I remember all the Christmas dinners my Mam made.

The smell of fresh thyme still brings me back to Christmas eve. My Mam in the kitchen, trying to get the stuffing made before Mass, knee-deep in breadcrumbs and sausage meat and the Kenwood blender. The stress radiating from her like heat from a crackling fire.

I loved all the Christmas dinners she made and especially her home-made stuffing. Even now she makes an extra batch for my family to eat with our Christmas dinner every year.

That’s why I’m starting a new old tradition by taking my Mam to lunch this January 6th. The last day of Christmas will be just for us.

If you’re free this Friday, join forces with some other women who worked hard this season. Raise a cup or a glass. Empty the biscuit tins and selection boxes before school starts. Create your own Nollaig na mBan.

After all, didn’t Christmas begin with one woman, labouring alone in the company of men?  It certainly doesn’t have to end that way.

New Year’s Reflections

New Year’s Reflections


What just happened?

Christmas 2016.

It’s over now for another year and for me, it’s the best time to reflect upon how the season went.

I’m happy it’s over because I’m one of those who struggle to cope with the stresses and chaos of Christmas.

I enjoy the days between Christmas and New Year more than most. No gifts to wrap, no shopping, lots of left overs so very little cooking, no worrying about whether or not the children will like their gifts. Relief.

The relief that descends after Christmas is really what I look forward to the entire month of December.

Like all parents there are aspects of our childhood that we don’t want to repeat. Things that we don’t want our own children to experience. Stress at Christmas is one of those things for me.

The ghosts of Christmases past continue to haunt me. Growing up with a parent who suffered from mental illness, Christmas as a child was stressful. It is after all, the darkest time of the year.

Every December my own emotional baggage combines with the Christmas retail frenzy to bring me close to the edge. I look at my children and I see history repeating itself. I realised a few years ago, that if I didn’t make changes, my own children will be writing a similar story in twenty years.

Last year was the first break through. It was the first since my marriage ended and I was focused like never before on navigating the festivities peacefully. I narrowed it down to what would really make it happy for my children. A calm Mother being top on my list.

I put forward a plan to my children’s Dad. We divided the day in three. The breakfast and opening of Santa gifts was done all together. The remainder of the day was split between Dad and Mam. They lunched with their Dad and had dinner with me. I felt that children need above all their parents on Christmas day.

This plan meant that both sets of Grandparents had to wait until after Christmas to see their Grandchildren. I tentatively explained to my parents. They amazed me. They decided to just recreate Christmas day on the 26th or 27th.  It worked for the children, what child doesn’t want two Christmas days?

Having no in-laws for the first time in ten years contributed to the peace. My poor Ex had the arduous task of explaining the new arrangements to his own parents.

With just me and two children for Christmas dinner I figured there was no point spending the entire day preparing food. The one thing my children were definitely not going to remember about this Christmas was exotic hors d’oeuvre and lemon scented stuffing.

I kept it simple. The kind of food that my children normally like. It was interesting how many people, my own Mother included were shocked by my choice of a small pre-stuffed chicken instead of a Turkey. Who knew that the difference between two birds could cause such consternation? That’s Christmas for you.

This year I tried to follow the same formula since it worked so well last year. I thought I had it figured out. But it was not easy.

I tried where possible to keep away from the shops, the online delivery from our local supermarket was a life-saver. 

I ran out of milk. A minor thing really in the great scheme of things. But minor things often trigger major ones.

My anxiety was more or less under control so I planned the trip to the supermarket with careful caution. I knew it was a risk. Going into a full-blown supermarket so close to Christmas.

There was so much aggressive promoting of products and discounts and panic-inducing merchandise. And lots of loud, thought-interrupting music. I tried to stay focused.

An internal panic ensued. I became distressed. There was a huge elaborate stand with fancy dairy stuff. I suddenly realised something.

I didn’t have any Baileys cream. In that one moment, the absence of Baileys cream was going to ruin my Christmas. Who did I think I was? Facing into Christmas without Baileys cream. It couldn’t be done. Shouldn’t be done.

I felt I had let down, myself, my children, and most especially the retailer who was trying to persuade me. I was a falling. Why had I not thought of the Baileys cream before now?

I had committed myself to coming into this shop to buy milk, just milk. I thought I was strong enough to carry it off. But the retailer knew me better than I knew myself.

I was flung into a dilemma. I had to have the cream, but I also desperately needed to not give in to the panic-buying. I lingered around the dairy section trying to focus on the advantages and disadvantages of buying the cream.

I had to have the cream. I just couldn’t have it on my conscience. I ran out of the shop, cream in one hand milk in the other. 

Ten days later I stood over the bin. The pot of Baileys cream in my hand. I reflected upon the process that brought me to that rubbish. A pot of unopened, unwanted, stupid cream.

And then it happened. Realisation.

The pot of cream was unopened. We had actually survived Christmas without the damn cream. My children had been happy, I was relaxed and had fun.

I only thought I needed the cream. I felt safer having it in the fridge.  Just in case.

The fear of being without. It’s that, that fear that drives me into panic every Christmas. Prompts me to behave like a squirrel, to hoard, to buy things I didn’t really want.  

Everything I really needed was already available. My children, my time, time to just be, time to play, my health, my harmonious home.

It’s only now when it’s all over that I can really look at my festive season and reflect on the small successes and make sure that they outnumber the panic buys and stress of next Christmas.

That’s my New Year’s Resolution.

Back to School!

Back to School!


I was nervous. The secondary school I attended invited me back to give a talk about my life since graduating, twenty years ago.

I was surely expected to talk about my academic and professional achievements Something to motivate young ladies to strive for the best in life.

That’s what it was all about when I was at school. Aiming high. That meant high grades, good jobs and rewarding salaries. We were taught to compete and work hard to get ahead.

In 1970’s Ireland a woman could not sit on a jury. A woman could not buy contraceptives or collect children’s allowance. A woman could not get married and hold a job in the bank or civil service.

I was in the class of 1996. A generation of women who had more opportunities than our Mothers.

I think I exploited all the opportunities that education had to offer me. I went to University, got a decent degree. I went abroad to another University and got a pHd, I learnt to speak fluent French. When I came back to Ireland I landed a brilliant job in one of the oldest Universities in Europe. All good.

Until, the one thing that nobody prepared me for happened. Motherhood.

In all the lessons and advice that teachers, parents, aunts and career counsellors had given, parenthood was never mentioned. Motherhood was not worth mentioning. It was a thing that successful women did on the side.

I had it all planned out. The little ones would go to the local creche, all day. Thus liberating their educated and ambitious Mother to continue her career unhindered.

Looking back now it seems so predictable.

What could my Mother and school teachers have done any differently? An entire generation of stay-at-home Mothers were simply not equipped to guide and advise on the difficulties of balancing a career and a family.

My parents were so proud to see me educated and working in a prestigious third level institution. They wanted this for me from early on. A good job. A successful career. They had sent me to that school for a reason.

That’s why it was so hard.

They did everything they could to help me stay in work when my children were sick. I would regularly send midnight messages to my Mam. Trying to arrange last minute child-care for my child.  A sudden fever at 1am means no creche tomorrow and the working Mum is high and dry.

The most difficult career choice I ever made was to stop working and stay at home with my children. They needed me.

The truth is I delayed giving up my career because I felt pressure to fulfil my professional ambitions. I didn’t think that being a stay at home mother was an option for someone like me. I felt I didn’t have that choice.

People regularly tell me “you’re wasted at home”.

This remark reveals a sad truth about what we value in our society. It’s a waste for an intelligent woman to dedicate herself to her children. Are my children not deserving of an educated experienced Mother?

The American poet Garrison Keillor said “nothing you do for children is ever wasted”. This quote rings true in my mind every single day.

The decision to be a full-time parent is one of the most empowering life choices I have ever made.

I was frazzled as a Mother with a career. I never had the time to get to know my children properly. I didn’t have the energy to really nurture them, or myself.  I was too stressed and tired to give proper consideration to my parenting choices.

Parenting with confidence is a privilege I now enjoy and believe the benefits for my children will be life-long .

What’s my advice to the class of 2017?

Education will broaden your horizons and liberate you. A successful career path will open doors not close them.

Enjoy your opportunities, avail of your opportunities but don’t ever allow opportunity to restrict your choices.

Some things never change! The blue corridors of my old convent school will bring back memories for many past pupils.

It didn’t feel like charity.

It didn’t feel like charity.


When we were at school together I didn’t really know Deirdre too well and so I had no idea what an inspiring woman she would become.

Three years ago Deirdre was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

After becoming completely numb on one side of her body she found herself lying frightened in a hospital emergency room.

MS is a chronic debilitating illness with no known cure.

One relapse left Deirdre unable to do basic tasks that most of us take for granted every day. I was so moved to learn about her struggles.

From painful experience I know that when an illness takes away your ability to parent your children it truly steals something precious. I empathise so much with a Mother who wants to take care of her own children and most especially not burden them with her care.

Earlier this year Deirdre took the brave decision to go to  Russia to receive life-changing medical treatment so that MS will not control her life.

I was lucky enough to be part of her journey through buying a ticket to attend a charity ball organised to raise funds to pay for her treatment.

The most remarkable thing about the ball was the upbeat energy that permeated the place. Many of Deirdre’s pupils, past and present had gathered around her to help with this event. A “Team Dee” had been assembled and they were something to behold.

Former classmates, pupils, teachers, friends and family mixed together to create a wonderful atmosphere.

The Runaways danced and entertained stylishly,  Party band The Firm belted out some of everyone’s all time favourites before a DJ rocked guests into the wee hours.

Local sweet suppliers The Sugar Shack furnished guests with sweet goodies; Ferro Rocher and pink sweets were displayed on a beautiful spinning wheel. Pick n Mix for Grown-ups.

I’ll be honest it didn’t really feel like charity. It was a celebration, of life, of each other and of a Team spirit that is determined to beat Multiple Sclerosis.

Treats from the Sugar Shack


Deirdre McGarry with The Runaways