Inaugural Saint Brigid’s Day bank holiday cultural programme launched to celebrate women in Ireland

An inspiring programme of cultural events taking place across the National Cultural Institutions has been announced today in recognition of the first Bank Holiday for Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day. As the first Irish public holiday named after a woman, St Brigid’s Day provides a unique opportunity to acknowledge the critical role that women have played in Irish history, culture and society.

In Celtic mythology, Brigid was a triple goddess – of healing, fire, and of poetry – and the Christian saint who took her name, born in 450 AD, carried some of those same associations as the patron saint of poets and midwives. As such, this bank holiday carries a dual opportunity to recognise the role of women through our arts and cultural heritage.

Our National Cultural Institutions have organised an exciting programme of events over the long weekend in response. This includes exhibitions at IMMA and the National Museum celebrating the work of seminal Irish women artists and political pioneers. IMMA will open Irish Gothic, a major retrospective by renowned Irish artist Patricia Hurl at IMMA. This marks the first in a series of solo exhibitions at IMMA that will focus on Irish and international women artists throughout the year.

The National Museum of Ireland – Collins Barracks will also present Bonnets, Bandoliers and Ballot Papers, which offers a unique insight into the changing role of women during the transformational first decades of the 20th century through the lens of artefacts in the collection. These are just a selection of the numerous events taking place at the National Cultural Institutions, with further details available on individual institutions’ websites.

There will be a range of community-based events organised by the local authorities as part of their Culture and Creativity Strategies under Creative Ireland in Galway, Kerry, Louth, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary and Kildare. Herstory Light Show is leading festivities by illuminating a number of local landmarks with the art of Brigid and Irish goddesses across several locations in Ireland. A giant Sliabh na mBan Cloak prepared by local women will be unveiled in Tipperary while Kildare County Council has planned a programme of events celebrating its unique links with St. Brigid.

Elsewhere, Herself – a large-scale public ‘projection project’ – will take place in Galway on February 4th. In collaboration with local community groups, artists Shona MacGillivray and Jill Beardsworth have identified women whose lives and work embody the qualities that Brigid is known for. Individual moving portraits of each woman have been filmed and layered with visuals representing their ‘Brigid’ qualities. The images will be projected at dusk on the neo-classical courthouse building in Gort town square on the new Brigid bank holiday weekend. The project illuminates those women who work quietly in the background, nurturing, protecting, growing, healing, listening and making our world a better place to be.

Meanwhile, Mná100, a key element of the Decade of Centenaries Programme, have partnered with the Department of Foreign Affairs Irish Embassy in Delhi, India, to produce a short film piece on the life of Roscommon woman Margaret Cousins. Cousins worked for suffrage, the rights of women, and gender equality both in Ireland and in India. This piece looks at her lasting legacy in Ireland and India to this day.

A number of Irish Embassies and Consulates will also organise events this year, celebrating the pioneering role of Irish women in various aspects of life. The programme will showcase Ireland’s commitment to diversity and gender equality by celebrating the achievements of women, and acknowledging women’s contribution across the world.

Speaking today Minister Martin, said: “I look forward greatly to the inaugural Saint Brigid’s Day bank holiday, also known as Imbolc, which heralds the beginning of spring, a time of growth and renewal. This presents a unique opportunity to reflect upon the vital role that Irish women have played in building, sustaining and inspiring our nation.

“I look forward to working with the National Cultural Institutions to further embed St Brigid’s Day into their annual programmes for 2024 and beyond.”

From 2023 there will be a new permanent public holiday established in celebration of Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day. This will be the first Monday in every February, except where St Brigid’s Day, the 1st day of February, happens to fall on a Friday, in which case that Friday 1 February will be a public holiday.

In Ireland, the first of February marks the beginning of Spring and the celebration of Lá Fhéile Bríde, St Brigid’s Day. Like many of other feast days of the Irish calendar, Brigid predates Christianity – her roots lie in the Celtic festival of Imbolc, the feast of the goddess Brigid, celebrated at least five millennia ago. In old Irish, Imbolc means “in the belly”, a reference to lambing and the renewal Spring promises.

Brigid was a triple goddess – of healing, fire, and of poetry – and the saint who took her name, born in 450 AD, carried some of those same associations. The patron saint of poets and midwives, by legend, she maintained a sacred fire by the monastery she founded in Kildare. Alongside St Patrick and St Columcille, she is one of Ireland’s three patron saints.

Brigid’s name can be translated as > the exalted one>. And, over recent years, her festival has come to be an exaltation of Irish women. From Washington to Warsaw, Sydney to Santiago, Ireland’s diplomatic network, in partnership with local communities, host a series of festivals each February celebrating the remarkable contribution Irish women have made – and continue to make – across the world.

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