Folklorist Angela Bourke explains why St Brigid is much more of a rounded figure than she is often portrayed.

Brigid is a far more interesting person than the gentle, meek and beautiful saint many children learned about in school, says Angela Bourke, an academic and folklorist whose interest is in women in oral folk tradition. 

Naomh banúil, neamhurchóideach, ach tá tuairimí eile fúithí sa mbéaloideas.

This holy woman was able to change her appearance to make herself physically unattractive to would be suitors, and her association with the Celtic feast of Imbolc implies strong connections to our pagan past.

In Irish folk tradition the year is divided into four parts, with what are known as quarter days Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa - marking the commencement of winter, spring, summer and autumn respectively.

St Brigid's feast day, 1 February falls on the festival of Imbolc, the first day of spring in the pre-Christian tradition. As the saint who was assigned such an important date in the calendar, and who is associated with fertility, women and new life, it can safely be said that she was of major importance to our ancestors.

Did the St Brigid that we know today ever actually exist?

Angela Bourke believes that the official version of Brigid is an amalgam of many holy women who were active in Ireland long ago, ancient pagan traditions, and a lot of input from hagiographers. 

Déanadh sórt cinsireacht nó eagarthóireacht ar an traidisiún.

The people who wrote school books for children during the first half of the twentieth century also sanitised her further. 

The feminine aspect of Brigid was often deliberately overlooked, as was folklore surrounding her association with fertility and childbirth, with accounts of women in labour having seen her at the foot of the bed,

Torthúlacht agus breith clainne, cé gur maighdean í Bríd de réir traidisiún, cosúil le Muire fhéin...

Brigid is also a figure traditionally connected to women’s tasks on the farm and in the home,

Is pátrún í ar hobair na mban ar go leor leor bealaí éagsúla.

This episode of 'Cursaí’ was broadcast on 1 February 1990. The presenter is Cynthia Ní Mhurchú.