Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Tánaiste, said Jan. 20 that “From next year, Ireland will have an extra public holiday at the start of February to mark Imbolc/St Brigid’s day … This will be the first Irish public holiday named after a woman. It marks the half-way point between the winter solstice and the equinox, the beginning of spring and the Celtic New Year. The creation of a tenth public holiday will bring Ireland more into line with the European average and it is one of five new workers’ rights that I am establishing this year.”
The fifth century abbess St. Brigid is one of Ireland's three patron saints, along with St. Patrick and St. Columba. Most historians place her birth around the year 450, near the end of St. Patrick’s evangelistic mission.
Brigid was born out of wedlock to a pagan cheiftain named Dubthach and a Christian slave woman named Broicsech. The chieftain sold the child's pregnant mother to a new master, but contracted for Brigid to be returned to him eventually. According to one of the more credible biographies of Brigid, Hugh de Blacam's essay in “The Saints of Ireland,” the child was probably baptized as an infant and raised as a Catholic by her mother. Thus, she was well formed in the faith before leaving Broicsech's slave quarters, at around age 10, to live with Dubthach and his wife.
After this, Brigid’s faith grew immensely. She gave generously to the poor and tended to the sick. One story says Brigid once gave away her mother's entire store of butter, which was later replenished after Brigid prayed.
Once she was released from servitude, she was expected to marry. However, Brigid had no interest in marrying. She went so far as to disfigure her own face and prayed that her beauty be taken from her so no one would want to marry her. Because she refused to change her mind about marriage, she received permission to enter religious life.
Brigid, along with seven friends, is credited with organizing communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland.