Brigid (Brighid, Brigit, or Bhríde, “Exalted One”) is thought by her devotees to have been a “triple goddess” of poetry, healing and smithcrafting. According to one account she was “born at the exact moment of daybreak, and rose into the sky with the sun, rays of fire beaming from her head. Her protection was sought over livestock and agriculture. She was reputed to be the daughter of the great Celtic god Dagda and the Morrigan. As a fertility goddess, her aspects were venerated not only in Ireland but also in Britain and on the continent. The Celtic festival of Imbolc—marking the beginning of spring—midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, coincides with the first of February, the feast day of St. Brigid. A sacred fire burned in Kildare reaching back into pre-Christian times. Scholars suggest that priestesses used to gather on the hill of Kildare to tend their ritual fires while invoking a goddess named Brigid to protect their herds and to provide a fruitful harvest.
When Brigid built her monastery and church in Kildare she continued the custom of keeping the fire alight. For her and her nuns the fire represented the new light of Christianity, which reached Irish shores early in the fifth century. In Brigid’s time, the number of her nuns who tended the flame was nineteen. On the 20th day, Brigid tended it herself. The sacred flame survived possibly up to the suppression of the monasteries in the sixteenth century. In 1993 the flame was re-lit in the Market Square, Kildare, by the leader of the present day Brigidine Sisters.