Turas Bride — Bridget’s Journey through Ireland, 2010
Tomorrow is February 1st, known in Ireland as Féile Bride or St. Bridget’s Day. It marks the beginning of spring in the Irish calendar, a day dedicated to the ancient goddess of fertility, animals and agriculture. Bridget has a pagan and Christian side, depending on who’s mind she’s in. She’s a patron saint of Ireland, like Patrick.
We grew up believing that Bridget travelled the country on the eve of her feast day and we made small crosses from rushes on Jan 31 to honour and welcome her. On her travels she blessed people, animals, barns, fields and winter crops. After her feast day, the weather always improved and winter was over; farmers went to work in the fields and fishermen began getting boats and nets ready for the coming season.
This year when Bridget does her tour of the country she’ll see a lot of changes. Strolling through the streets of Galway, she’ll notice how quiet and almost serene the city has become since last year. She might be curious at the absence of all the pinstriped men and women, the twenty-thirty-forty-fifty somethings who strode around clutching important files and rabbiting on cell phones. Auctioneers, and engineers, solicitors, bluffers, bimbos, con artists, bankers, developers, builders, architects, shysters and hustlers — in previous years they pushed her out of their way. They’re ghosts now, and just the echo of their well tipped heels remain. She’ll say a quiet prayer that the musicians, poets, writers, artists and actors who gave Galway her counter-culture edge will return and retake their territory.Out the country, she’ll wince at the desolate half-built housing estates on once green meadows; monuments to greed and folly, the land is littered with them and they’ll never be finished. She’ll frown at all the lopsided ‘For Sale’ signs outside buildings and she’ll need a lantern to guide her way on the potholed roads. Craters deep enough to drown a calf will concern her and she’ll wonder why the county councils are not repairing them.
If Bridget rambles into any supermarket around Gort, she’ll notice that shelves are not as well stocked as last year. Gourmet is passé and some sections are combined — Asian, Italian and French food stuffs are all lumped together. She may wonder if people now have curry risotto with white wine sauce over noodles, sweet and sour coq au vin with fettucine. She’ll notice the East European and Brazilian shelves have given way to own brand juices, toothpaste, bathroom tissue and firelighters. She’ll see that shoppers are spending more time browsing prices, weighing up options. They’re more mindful and the days of ‘pick and toss into the cart’ are gone. But she’ll wonder why farmers are buying imported fruit and veg rather than growing their own. She may feel slighted by this, and file it away for future reference.
As she tracks out of Gort and over to the Burren, she might think the flapping remnants in the roadside trees and hedgerows are prayer flags in her honour. Coming closer she’ll see they are plastic bags and debris left behind by the floods. In most places the high water mark will be well above her head. Then she’ll know that the sandbags around some houses are there to keep out the water and not the rebels.It will be late in the night when Bridget reaches Glencolmcille in the Burren. She’ll head to the glimmer of light in the hazel valley, the cell of Saint Colman, poet and mystic. He’ll have the kettle boiling and greet her with a mug of hot potín and a verse of blessings. Bridget will tell him what she has seen, as she does every year and he’ll listen in silence, only moving to feed the fire. Then he’ll give her his take on the place since they last met. He’ll tell her the circus has left town, but there’s still a few clowns around. Most of the trapeze artists and the contortionists are in hiding, but the Houdinis have escaped.
While the night wears on, Colman will relate stories of the boom, and how former taoiseach Bertie Ahearn had assured the nation that they were on the pig’s back and urged them to ride that hog all the way to the bacon factory. People didn’t understand how to ride pigs and they did the daftest of things. Small town taxi drivers bought apartments in Dubai and farmers became builders. School kids got their own cars and crane drivers took to cocaine. Hot tubs were installed in neo country cottages and swinger parties replaced the Saturday night game of cards. Lattes out did Barry’s tea for the morning jolt and the Panini trumped the sandwich. And then it turns out that there were no pigs, it was all an illusion and the fall was a heavy one. Colman will say that those who held Bridget in their hearts were unscathed by the boom and its aftermath.
Bridget will promise to pray for the country and rise to continue her journey. Colman will wrap his winter robe around himself and they’ll cross the Burren mountains towards the Atlantic. Over near Fanore they’ll reach the coast road, turn left for Doolin and continue to the Cliffs of Moher. Before dawn they will reach Dabhach Bride, Bridget’s holy well. She’ll bless the water as the sun rises and Colman and herself will recite prayers for those resting in the surrounding graveyard. Then they’ll hang in the shadows of the sacred grove above the well and wait for the pilgrims to arrive.
Colman will note that Clare still believes in her, that the tide has turned and more and more people are arriving every year: locals, strangers and New Age pagans. They’ll gaze across Liscannor Bay and down along the West Clare Coast and recall times past when huge crowds assembled at the well from as far as the eye could see. In the afternoon, the gentle sound of jigs and reels will seep from Murphy’s pub nearby. They’ll know the tunes, local to the core — The Piper’s Chair, The Heathery Breeze, The Doonagore Reel, Paddy Killoughery’s Jig.
“My duty is done,” she’ll say to Colman and they’ll stroll down the path and into Murphy’s.
Colman will order two hot whiskeys and they’ll sit by the fire and listen to the fiddle and flute. They might have a second drink and then leave as quietly as they entered. The fiddler will ask who they are and the barman will say,
“I don’t know their names but they come here every year since I was a boy at least.”
Maybe they’ll still be around when I go to Bridget’s Well tomorrow.
Dabhach Bride photo: Clare County Library