It was a full house at Solas Bhríde on Saturday 22nd April for a conference marking 30 years of the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare town. Approximately 100 attendees gathered to hear two wonderful and inspiring speakers, Dr Niamh Wycherley and Dr Niamh Brennan, address the legacy and relevance of Brigid today from two very different perspectives.
A warm welcome was provided by the Solas Bhríde Team and Cairde Bhríde members. The morning began on a lovely note with music from a local group of traditional Irish musicians led by Treasa Harkin.
Marking the opening, closing and other points during the day were a series of beautiful rituals with music, chant and spoken word. Crafted by Margaret, Mary, and Brenda from Cairde Bhríde, these were designed to bring us into mindfulness through our five senses and back to our own intention for the day.
Lunch was an opportunity to mix and mingle with friends old and new. In the afternoon, as part of her presentation, Dr Niamh Brennan invited us to walk in the Solas Bhríde gardens and connect with nature. We emerged refreshed, renewed, and looking forward to another gathering in Kildare.
‘Boss Brigid: the lasting legacy of the founder of Kildare’,
Is Brigid for real? Most certainly according to Dr Niamh Wycherley! A medieval scholar with a deep interest in Brigid of Kildare, her lecture, ‘Boss Brigid: the lasting legacy of the founder of Kildare’, firmly established her in the reality of medieval Christian Ireland as a living, breathing individual.
According to Niamh, while the ancient goddess and miracle-working saint are both worthy subjects for our attention, with virtues like inclusivity, strength, hospitality and healing, the real ‘flesh and blood’ woman behind it all is actually much more extraordinary. She revealed how in a patriarchal society and religious culture that kept women very much in a secondary and subservient role, only a strong, visionary and influential individual could have succeeded.
Tradition tells us that Brigid invited Conleth a hermit of Old Connell (Newbridge) to take charge of the male side of the monastery. However, there was never any doubt about who was in charge. Brigid of Kildare led a vibrant community and created a legacy that has lasted to this day.
Dr Niamh Wycherley works in Maynooth University Department of Early Irish as a medieval historian, specialising in the early Irish Church. She won the NUI Publication Prize in History in 2017 for her book, “The Cult of Relics in Early Medieval Ireland”. She contributes regularly to RTÉ Brainstorm and television programmes such as the RTÉ 1 documentary ‘Finding Brigid’, with Siobhán McSweeney.
‘The Wild and the Sacred: Listening to the Voices of Earth’,
Our morning with the real Brigid of Kildare brought into sharp detail a particular time in medieval life and politics. By contrast, our afternoon with Dr Niamh Brennan led us into the infinite world of the cosmos to explore, in Thomas Berry’s words, “the deep wonder that we are”. Niamh’s presentation explored our sense of detachment from that source of wonder and how Nature can provide the map that leads us home to ourselves.
Using images of the Voices of Earth, accessed through our five senses, Niamh focused on reconnecting us with that source of wonder. She asked us how we respond to the sound of the lark or the sea waves crashing, the night sky or birds in flight. Niamh explained how we are in no way separate from Nature and the Cosmos. We all emerged from the same source, Science’s “Big Bang” or the “Flaring Forth” as she prefers to describe it. As such, we are part of the Wild and Sacred, not separate.
During Niamh’s presentation we were invited to walk in the gardens and ask ourselves what voice of Earth resonated with each of us personally. If we silence the Voices of Earth, then we silence ourselves…
Niamh Brennan Ph.D. is a writer and lecturer in cosmology, ecology and spirituality. She is author of The Human in the Universe (Wyndham Hall Press 2014) and co-author with Greg Morter of The Universe Story in Science and Myth (Green Spirit 2016). She has contributed to several journals including Religions; Worldviews: Global Religions, Ecology and Culture; Spirituality; and The Furrow.
At the conclusion of the conference centre co-ordinator Sr. Phil O Shea invited attendees to take a handout showing the summer events, these will also be available to view on the Solas Bhride website. Phil in thanking the Brigidine Sisters and Brigid 1500 for sponsorship toward the conference said later in the year we would be publishing a full programme of events for 2024 celebrating St. Brigid, A Woman, A Life, A Legacy and that a conference would be part of this programme.