Charles McGlinchey, Ballyliffin, recounting a tradition of his youth in the 1860s;
‘Brigid’s Eve was the night for making crosses. Before the people of the house sat down to supper, a girl belonging to the family went out to bring in the rushes. If there was a girl by the name of Brigid in the house she got the privilege. She knocked on the door and the one inside said:
Oiche Bhríde brichíneach
Bain an ceann den croiceanach,
Gabhaigí ar na glúnaí,
Is ligigí isteach Bríd Bheannaithe.
‘Sé beatha, ‘sé beatha, sé beatha.
On St Brigid’s night
Take the head off the rushes,
Go on your knees,
And let St Brigid in.
You’re welcome, you’re welcome, your welcome.
That was the night my father always said the prayer “Bail na gcúig n-arán.The blessing of the five loaves”.
After we took our supper,all the grown-up ones about the house made the rush-crosses. A cross was made for the kitchen and for above the beds and for all the outhouses. The old people always left a rag of cloth outside on a bush that night till morning. It had the blessing of St Brigid and was used for cures, and against dangers of any kind, like the fever, or lightning, or fire, or drowning. It was called the ‘Bratóg Bhríde’.’
‘In parts of Ireland – especially throughout the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin – it was customary with the young people to assemble on the eve of St. Bridget’s festival, observed the first day of February, and to carry with them what had been demoninated a Bride-oge, which means in English, The Virgin Brigid. This was formed of a churn-dash, covered with stuff of materials, to fashion it, as near as possible, like a female figure. These materials were usually covered with white calico. A dress of some village belle covered the whole, with an elegant bonnet and fashionable cap surmounting the figure’s head. The Brideoge’s face, however, was round, and perfectly featureless. Frills, tuckers, necklace, and a handsome sash usually decorated this grotesque figure.
A piper and fiddler marched before, playing lively and popular airs; and especially when the crowd of accompanying idlers stopped at each door, in country places and villages, the Bride-oge always obtained an entrance for its bearer.
Young children were often greatly frightened at the unexpected arrival of this unclouth visitant. A lad and lass were told off, footing it merrily to a jig or reel, and, after its conclusion, the director of such proceedings , – his hat decorated with boughs and ribbons – went round with a purse to collect offerings for the Bride-og. These were seldom or ever refused, and they were usually in keeping with the means of liberality of the householder.
Proceeds thus collected were expended on Bridget’s day, in getting up a rustic ball, where tea, cakes, and punch, were in requisition as refreshments. A dance and plays were also organized as part of the evenings amusements. This festive celebration was probably derived from carrying St. Bridget’s shrine in procession, at some remote period. The later travesty, and disorders accompanying it , induced many of the Catholic clergy to discourage such odd practices, and we believe that at present they are almost entirely obsolete.’*
Irish Folk Lore
* Caution should be taken when it is stated that a custom has become, or is becoming obsolete, accounts are often based on personal experience, and customs often decline only to be revived again only to be revived again.
The Bride Oge tradition, described above, continued to be practiced widely throughout Ireland, well into the twentieth-century by both adults and children, with the tradition still continuing in many areas.