The current trend pushing for a public holiday commemorating St Brigid as a ‘celtic goddess’ is “disingenuous” and “reflects people’s ignorance of history”, a prominent Church historian has said.
Recent trends, including a campaign to make St Brigid’s day Ireland’s new public holiday, have emphasised the Celtic, pre-Christian goddess Bríg, rather than the “genuine, historical female saint”, Professor Alexander O’Hara of Trinity College Dublin’s Loyola Institute said.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic newspaper, Prof. O’Hara said that “there’s a danger of this kind of false understanding of the past, that pagan/Celtic Ireland was somehow purer,” than Christian Ireland, and that this is just “bad history”.
Dr O’Hara said it was particularly reflective of ignorance of “the contribution that the Catholic Church played, not only in the development of Irish ethnic identity, but it was absolutely central to the development of the nation of Ireland”.
“The thing was that there would be no Irish nation without Christianity. It might have been a different form, but we’re talking about different tribal groups and what brings them together is this universal sense of ‘we are all members of Christ’s body’, and this kind of universal aspect to Christianity is actually what creates it,” Dr O’Hara said.
He continued that he understands why there is a push for it, but that the solely Celtic/pagan focus is “not a real engagement with actually our historical heritage and tradition”.
Despite this, Dr O’Hara said he thinks in terms of honouring St Brigid with a public holiday, “it’s a fantastic idea, both celebrating her as one of the patron saints of Ireland and also of women’s contribution to Ireland and particularly the Church in Ireland”.
“This could be a wonderful occasion to actually celebrate the contribution of women in Ireland and their role in the Catholic Church as well,” Dr O’Hara said.