Today is the eve of St Brigit’s feast day. There are many folk traditions associated with the saint feast and the eve of her feast some of which are still carried out. This post is about a St Brigit’s day tradition that was carried out in my home when I was a child. This tradition called the St Brigit’s Ribbon (ribín Bríghud).
When I was small each year on St Brigit’s eve my mother would hang a ribbon out the window. The ribbon would be taken in the next morning and put somewhere safe to be used when needed as a cure for headaches. It was in big demand as migraine seems effect a lot of my family.
Traditional used for the ribbon
My mothers had learned this ritual from her mother and the Schools ’ Folklore Scheme (1937-38) for our parish records the tradition being practiced in the area in 1930’s. I can vaguely remember the ribbon being laid across my head as a child when I had a headache but nowadays we stick to painkillers.
Danaher in his book The Year in Ireland. Irish Calendar Customs also records the St Brigit’s ribbon custom.
Traditionally to cure a headache the ribbon
First, it is rubbed [the ribbon] or drawn around the patient’s head three times, saying each time the invocation, ” in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen,” after which it is knotted around the head.
The custom was widely documented around Ireland but with some local variations. In other parts of the country the ribbon was known as Brat Bríde or Bratóg Bríde (St Brigit’s Mantle) (ibid.).
The power of the ribbon came from the general belief that the saint was out and about on her eve traveling around the country and would touch the ribbon and endow it with its healing powers. It was acceptable to use a piece of linen, cloth, a sash or handkerchief or other garments. Men would often leave out their belts, a tie or braces
to be worn if the wearer was engaged in any hazardous pursuit or journey to a distant place; it is often thus worn by fishermen and many stories are told of how this fishing boa or that escaped the perils of the sea and storm because one of the crew wore the Brat Bríde (Danaher 1972, 33).
Although my family hung the ribbon out the window others laid theirs on the doorstep, window sill, a garden hedge or even over a low roof of a shed. In some places in Munster the ribbon/cloth was tied to the latch of the door so the saint would touch it when entering the house.
In my home the ribbon was used only for headaches but in other places and in times past it was said to cure sore throats earache, bareness, help women in childbirth, ward of the evil eye and protect children from fairies. It could also be used for farm animal that became ill the sign of the cross was made with the brat and it was then laid on the animals back to ensure the saints intervention on its behalf. It helped animals to give birth and have a plentiful supply of milk (Danaher 1972, 33).
This is just one of many customs that were carried out all over the county on St Brigit’s eve or day.
Danaher, K 1972. The Year in Ireland. Irish Calendar Customs. Cork : Mercier Press, 32-33.