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The Patron Saints of Ireland

Updated on February 18, 2012

Brigid & Columba

Although Saint Patrick is the most commonly known patron saint of Ireland, there are others that were recognized by the Catholic church as well.

Most commonly known Patron Saint of Ireland

Artist depiction of Saint Patrick
Artist depiction of Saint Patrick | Source

St. Brigid's Well - Kildare Ireland

St. Brigid's Well
St. Brigid's Well | Source

Brigid of Kildare

Brigid of Kildare, also known as Brigid of Ireland or Mary of the Gael is a very prominent Irish saint. There are so many varying stories as to her origin that it is unclear exactly who her parents were or how she lived her early years. Three of the biographies written about her recount that she was the daughter of a slave in the court of her father, Dubhthach, the king of Leinster.

At that time he would have been called a chieftain. Dubhthach is labeled as a Pagan, however, the term is very loosely used to mean all non-Abrahamic religious beliefs. Some of the accounts call him a druid which is much more specific to the nature of his belief system. Her mother is noted as being an enslaved Pict, which indicates Scots origin, who was baptized by Saint Patrick and converted to Catholicism.

Many of the annals place her death in 524, so if her indicated age of 86 is to be believed then she would have been born in 439. This would coincide with the recognized life span of Saint Patrick as spanning into the second half of the fifth century.

Early Life of Brigid

Accounts indicate that from the start she was holy. Her mother was baptized, but her father was still a druid. When he tried to feed her she vomited because he was impure. A cow had to be assigned to sustain her. (It is unclear to me why the druid would need to feed her rather than her own mother so I can only assume that this is also symbolic to make a point about Brigid's holy nature from infancy).

As she grew it is noted that she performed many miracles of healing and that she often fed the poor. Most notable are the references of her healing lepers as well as miracles from the gifting of food. In one instance it was stated that an old woman came to her door asking for food. All Brigid had was her mother's butter so she gave the butter to the old woman, however when she returned to the table she found three packages of butter in answer to her generosity and her prayers.


St. Brigid of Kildare (also of Ireland)

Saint Brigid of Kildare
Saint Brigid of Kildare | Source

Brigid performs miracles

Due to the Irish habit of exaggerating tales we cannot truly know the extent of accuracy to the tales, but these were commonly noted by witnesses or those related to the witness. Not only did Brigid perform miracles, but she also had the power to curse as well. This is a common concept in Biblical writings so can be considered to be based in factual belief.

It was widely known that if Brigid wished or predicted something to occur, it would occur. Once Brigid was given a gift of apples and sweet sloes. She later visited a house where many lepers lived. They begged of her the apples and she gave them willingly. The nun who had given her the apples became irritated and told her she had meant them for Brigid not those lepers. Brigid, incensed at the nun's stinginess, cursed her trees so they would be barren and no longer bear fruit. Another time a virgin gave her the same gift. Brigid again gave the apples to the lepers. However, this time the virgin asked for her blessing rather than be angered at her giving away her gift. Brigid then told the virgin that a large tree in her garden would produce twofold and from then on it was so.

Brigid straddles both worlds

The feast day of St. Brigid is the first of February. This coincides with Imbolc which is one of the quarter days of the Pagan year and marks the beginning of their spring. The various aspects of her life, healing, generosity, miracles and curses, lineage and her great friendship with Saint Patrick have all combined to make her very popular not only with Catholic Irish, but also with Gaelic Irish and the general population at large.

It is also noted that there was a goddess, Brigit, in much earlier history and the cult of Saint Brigit practitioners have many pre-Christian tones to their ceremonies.

Brigid - facts and dates

  • Celebration of Feast day for Saint Brigid is February 1
  • Patron saint of babies, blacksmiths, boatsmen, cattle, chicken farmers, children with unmarried parents, children of abusive homes & with abusive fathers, Clan Douglas, dairymaids, fugitives, inmates, Ireland, Leinster, mariners, midwives, milk maids, nuns, poets, poor, poultry farmers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travelers & watermen
  • Born 453 (accounts do not mention the exact date)
  • Died 524 (accounts do not mention the exact date)

Saint Columba

Stained glass depiction of St. Columba
Stained glass depiction of St. Columba | Source

Saint Columba Apostle of Ireland

Saint Columba is also known as Colum Cille, meaning "dove of the church". Columba was a direct descendant of an Irish High King of the 5th century. He was baptized by his foster-uncle, Saint Crunathan. I found much less actual information on his early years than that of Brigid, however, it is commonly noted that during his instruction he was a pupil of St. Finnian at Clonard which generally had a student body of 3,000. He became one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Prior to becoming an apostle, one is a disciple who studies. Apostle means to go away or be sent away. This refers to being sent out to evangelize the church through missionary works and gain converts.

During Columba's lifetime it was a great time for the church. Many scholars were sent out as apostles and gained their own notoriety for their missionary works, writings, miracles and conversions. Saint Columba was at Movilla Abbey studying under Finnian of Moville (not to be confused by his earlier teacher at Clonard). Columba is noted as having inadvertently incited the clan Neill to go to battle with the King Diarmait for the king having violated Columba's right of sanctuary when seeking the answer to the death of Columba's kinsman, Prince Curnan. He was also found to have secretly copied a manuscript with the intent of keeping it for himself. Once completed, a quarrel over possession of the manuscript developed between Finnian and Columba which escalated into the battle. The result was that 3,000 men were killed. St. Brendan of Birr spoke on his behalf keeping him and his followers from being excommunicated. Instead he was allowed to go into exile.

Columba chose to go to Scotland and is credited with the revitalization of monasticism and is considered the patron saint of Derry, Ireland.

Columba is noted for having prophetic revelations (passive communication to another such as a vision or dream), although some seemed more vindictive in nature, many were great revelations and one in particular he appeared to King Oswald of Northumbria in a dream predicting his victory over King Catlon in an upcoming battle. When the people heard of this they all vowed to believe and be baptized after the battle. This created the re-Christianization of pagan England and King Oswald becoming ruler of all Britain.

Church remains in Gartan Co Donegal

Remains of St Columba's church in Gartan, Co Donegal
Remains of St Columba's church in Gartan, Co Donegal | Source

Columba - Miricles and Apparitions

The stories of Saint Columba's miracles generally deal with healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, taming wild animals, calming storms and raising the dead. He was also credited with agricultural miracles that would matter to the common man, such as casting out a demon from a milk pail or restoring the spilled milk to the pail.

Adomnan contributed a story to the Vita of Columba, a recounting of his life and experiences, regarding his banishing of a river monster. That story is believed to be the first account of the Loch Ness Monster. The only difference in the story is that when he saved a swimmer from the monster (invoking thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed) the monster retreated to the River Ness flowing from the Loch rather than to Loch Ness itself.

Saint Brendan of Birr spoke in Columba's defense as noted earlier because he had a vision of Columba being escorted by Holy Angles on his journey to Iona. He assured his peers that he was indeed a man of God. Columba felt great remorse from his supporting the uprising and accepted the penance given to him to go to the land of his kinsmen and convert them to Catholicism. At the end of his life he also has a vision of his death which he recounted to his attendant as well as the manner in which the angels appear to him and accompany him to the kingdom of God.

Other miracles noted were the changing of water to wine, changing bitter fruit to sweet, banishing a pestilential cloud and healing the sick of said cloud, blessing a crop of corn to mature early having been planted in June and reaping the crop in August. Healing many through out his lifetime, banished demons from a fountain and calmed storms. (many of the same attributed to Jesus himself)

Columba - facts and dates

  • Celebration of Feast day for Saint Columba is June 9th.
  • Patron saint of Derry, floods, bookbinders, poets, Ireland & Scotland.
  • Born December 7, 521 in Gartan, County Donegal, Ireland
  • Died June 9, 597 (75yrs old) in Iona, Scotland

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    • Marla Neogra profile image
      Author

      Marla J Neogra 5 years ago from Parkersburg, West Virginia

      Well I get it from my father, embellishment is the key to catching the audience.

    • itakins profile image

      itakins 5 years ago from Irl

      The original stories about Irish saints would have been told in Irish subsequently translated to English-and much gets lost in translation ,or stories can vary somewhat depending on who translated them.I'm not so sure about the Irish tendency to exaggerate ,but we do love to tell or hear a good story.

      Well done .