Date of Award

2006

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Zomke

Second Advisor

Dr. Tom Auffenberg

Third Advisor

Dr. Terry Carter

Abstract

Every year on the seventeenth of March, the world goes wild. Saint Patrick's Day has arrived, and even those who are not descended from the Irish earn an honorary place in the Irish fold. For one twenty-four hour period, everyone who wants to be can be Irish Catholic-- even Protestants. Saint Patrick and the day named for him have become symbols of Ireland and Irish culture to such an extent that sometimes it seems there is little about Ireland that does not relate to Patrick, the shamrock, or the color green. But long before this slave-turned-missionary set foot on the Emerald Isle, Ireland was devoted to another religion, a pagan religion, in which gods and goddesses walked the green hills and brought magic to Eire.

One of the more intriguing figures in the pagan culture was the goddess Brighid, venerated by healers, blacksmiths and scholars. She was a goddess of fire, and her followers kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. Later, after the Irish had largely converted to Catholicism, another Brighid came to hold great esteem among the people. This Brighid, a humble women from County Kildare, became so important to the faithful that she remains one of the three patron saints of Ireland. As much mystery surrounds the life of Saint Brighid as once surrounded the myths of the old pagan goddess. The real mystery of Brighid is a tale of two Brighids: the goddess and the saint. So much of the mythical goddess is made manifest in the actual life of St. Brighid that it merits some comparison. The seemingly worldwide appeal of St. Patrick has overshadowed attempts within the scholarly community to delve much into the world of mystery surrounding the life of St. Brighid and the ancient myths of the goddess. The stories of the goddess of legend and the saint of history seem to blend together after the death of St. Brighid, producing tales and traditions associated with an historical Catholic figure that are actually pagan in origin. Among the most striking characteristics shared by the two Brighids are the dates of their major holidays, the rituals associated with the celebration of those holidays, the legends and stories told of them, and the areas over which their followers believed them to hold sway. Before comparing the similarities between the two figures, however, it is necessary to survey the story of the goddess and the history of the saint.

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