St Brigid

I attended two quite different events on February 1st to celebrate the feast day of St Brigid who as well as being (with Patrick and Columba) one of the three patron saints of Ireland is the patron saint of the Irish Chaplaincy.

The first event was a mass at Sacred Heart Church in Kilburn celebrated by our own Fr. Gerry McFlynn. Gerry spoke in his sermon about some of the core themes in Brigid’s life and work: care for the earth, peace and justice issues, gender equality, and being close to the poor. And he told of how in the 5th Century, Brigid founded in Kildare a double monastery, one for women the other for men, over which she ruled as abbess. Brigid was a strong but gentle woman, a good leader, and a wise spiritual guide; and she seems to have encapsulated in herself the qualities of the active and the contemplative. She spent long periods in silent contemplation from which she drew her confidence and courage; and she took her share in the manual work of the monastery: milking the cows, shepherding the sheep and brewing the ale. She practised hospitality (which for me will always be at the very heart of Irish culture), and had a special concern for the poor and marginalized. And she was attentive to the cycles of nature, with a reverence and respect for the wonder of creation.

She was also a peacemaker who often intervened in inter-tribal disputes and brought healing and reconciliation. As Gerry pointed out, Brigid was not just years ahead of her time, she was centuries ahead. She continues to bring inspiration and hope and strength, and because of all the qualities mentioned above she is a fitting patron for the Irish Chaplaincy.

 From the church I went to the Irish Embassy to an inaugural event for Lá Fhéile Bríde, St Brigid’s Day, which was a ‘Celebration of the Creativity of Women’, and what a celebration it was: scientists, political journalists, artists, writers, comedians, entrepreneurs, architects, designers: Irish women who have got to the top of what still can be very male-dominated fields. I was especially excited to hear three songs performed by the uniquely-expressive Franco-Irish chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan. And as I stood there in the Embassy Ballroom amidst that spellbound audience of people who were there to celebrate the gifts and creativity of Irish women, and as I thought of my own mother (another truly great Irish woman), I felt incredibly blessed: to do the kind of work I do, to meet the kind of people I meet, to have the upbringing and heritage I have.

Before we left we were addressed by Ambassador O’Neill and by President Higgins (also a patron of the Irish Chaplaincy) who gave a striking phrase in his speech, that “life in love is God”. And then we were treated to another moving song from Camille and some final words from the host, the hilarious and lovely Galway woman Pauline McLynn.

And one final thought: St Brigid’s day marked the first day of Spring in the old Irish calendar. It might seem a bit premature in these cold, damp and dark days to be celebrating the start of Spring. Yet, the gradually lengthening days and the appearance in my garden of snowdrops, crocusses and even early daffodils reminds me that once more light will overcome dark, and new life shall return in that never-ending cycle of creation.

And may we continue to find inspiration and hope and strength in St Brigid.


St Brigid’s prayer


You were a woman of peace.

You brought harmony where there was conflict.

You brought light to the darkness. You brought hope to the downcast.

May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious,

and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.

Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.

Brigid you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.

Strengthen what is weak within us. Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.

May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.


(author unknown)

St. Brigid’s Feast Day is February 1st.


Unexpected Gifts

If, following the birth of my children, three strange people had turned up at the door with shining and sweet smelling but totally impractical presents, I’m not sure what I would have thought! Yet we come now to the feast of the Epiphany, when we mark the arrival in Bethlehem of the three kings with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Who are these mysterious characters who followed a star and lavished such expensive and elaborate gifts on a baby born in a dirty stable to unmarried parents? And what do these unusual events tell us about God and about our own place in the nativity story? Continue Reading

A Light in the Darkness

I was at the Ethnic Chaplains Christmas meal this week (in the middle of December) at the Italian Chaplaincy and got chatting to Andreas the new German Chaplain in London who I knew 26 years ago when he spent a year at L’Arche. We were both lamenting how Advent can get overlooked in the mad frenzy of Christmas which begins ever-earlier each year, even in Church settings. Andreas expressed his surprise that the Ethnic Chaplains had sung a lusty chorus of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ (i.e. already announcing the birth of Christ) at the end of our pre-meal prayer in the church in front of the enormous and beautiful crib in the Italian church. I can’t remember whether the baby was already in the manger (I suspect he was); he is certainly there now in the crib outside Canterbury Cathedral. Even the three kings have arrived early! Continue Reading

A Haptic Cwtch

I am in awe of the internet and mobile technology and the evolution of smart phones and smart devices which have become the norm in modern day life. With the growth of social media, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Skype to name but a few, it is possible to be in almost permanent contact with a member of your family or a friend who is living thousands of miles away. Social media has been a blessing for families of those who have emigrated but there is also a downside.
One Irish Mammy said, that while she was regularly able to see her grandchildren on the PC through the internet, “you can’t hug Skype”. Social media has allowed people to be close to loved ones at difficult times and now, because of webcams in churches, you can attend a funeral in many parts of Ireland from as far away as Sydney or Boston.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Wormwood Scrubs

As part of Traveller History Month in June, the Irish Chaplaincy organized an event at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London for Irish Travellers. After a competition (with cash prizes on offer for the lucky winners) I sang a few old Irish songs and was spontaneously and ably joined on guitar by one of the men who informed me that he’d worked as a session musician. There was a great atmosphere with lots of friendly banter, and this continued during the shared meal that followed. I was touched when one of the guys said to me “it’s things like this that help to keep my spirits up”. The event was very uplifting for me too. We promised to be back for another event near to Christmas, to which one character shouted out “well I won’t be here, please God, because I’m due for release in November”!

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