Herstory, the group behind the campaign to make St. Brigid's Day Ireland's newest bank holiday, reveals the epic story that led to "this historic moment for the women of Ireland."
Editor's Note: Last year, the Irish Government announced that the Monday after St. Brigid's Day (Feb. 1) would become Ireland's newest bank holiday in honor of the Irish saint.
Herstory launched its campaign to make St. Brigid's Day a national holiday in 2019, building on the legacy of visionaries who kept Brigid's flame alive for decades, including the legendary Brigidine sisters of Solas Bríde and Dr. Karen Ward and Dolores Whelan, who rediscovered Brigid's Way in County Kildare.
In tracing its journey to making St Brigid's Day a holiday in Ireland, Herstory says that in 2016, Irish actress Tara Flynn "sparked Brigid's light" by performing 'Brigid not Jones' Diary' at the Herstory launch. Flynn introduced Herstory Founder Melanie Lynch to the Celtic Goddess Brigid for the first time and "demonstrated how this extraordinary triple goddess of fire, water, and the arts, should be the celebrity of Modern Ireland."
Later, in spring 2019, Herstory board member Treacy O’Connor approached Lynch with the idea of starting a petition to make Brigid’s Day Ireland’s national holiday.
Together with Lorna Evers Monaghan, they penned and launched the petition, calling on Irish people and the Irish diaspora to celebrate Ireland’s matron saint Brigid in a similar way to how St. Patrick is celebrated.
Lynch harnessed her communications skills to weave Brigid’s wisdom, values, and the fledgling campaign into Herstory’s strategy and the major Herstory on RTÉ production.
That same year, the Herstory Festival of Light was sparked by an epiphany Lynch had: “If Ireland lights up the world green on St. Patrick’s Day for one man, why can’t we illuminate the world in celebration of women?”
In 2019, Emily McCormack from Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs requested that Herstory move its annual Festival of Light from Nollaig na mBan (January 6, 'Women's Christmas) to Brigid’s Day (February 1) as a number of Irish Embassies had expressed interest in illuminating landmarks in honor of women.
The Herstory illuminations helped give power, energy, and media attention to the Brigid’s Day campaign, with illumination going viral in the press and on social media.
In 2020, Herstory worked with Ireland's Mother and Baby Home survivors in the healing spirit of St. Brigid.
Lynch said: "We asked survivors what was their fear and they said it was being forgotten. In response, we produced a spectacular pilgrimage of light on Brigid’s Day 2021, illuminating iconic museums, castles, and Sean Ross Abbey in honor of all those who suffered. Peter Martin captures this powerful tribute in SOLAS, a hauntingly beautiful film."
On Brigid’s Day 2021, poet Laura Murphy joined the campaign and penned a powerful Letter to the Taoiseach, seeking justice for the Mother & Baby Home survivors and victims. In her letter, she also asked for Brigid’s Day to become a national holiday in their memory. The Abbey Theatre invited Laura to read her letter in the acclaimed production HOME, created in direct response to the report on Mother and Baby Homes and focusing on the testimonies of survivors.
The momentum was building and on Spring Equinox 2021, Lynch wrote to every politician and stakeholder on the island of Ireland, calling for Brigid’s Day to be made a national holiday. Advisors and influencers in this process were Maria Bourke, Katelyn Hanna, Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, Ruairí McKiernan, Susan Quirke, Treacy O’Connor, and Laura Murphy. The response was strong, with many (female and male!) politicians backing the campaign.
So it was some shock to Herstory when in September 2021, Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment Leo Varadkar announced that there would be a new national holiday in Ireland and Fine Gael released their proposed ideas to public vote, including the favourite idea ‘Thanksgiving,' however, there was no mention of Brigid’s Day.
The petition was signed by 16,000 people, and the campaign was backed by the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, Green Party, Official St. Patrick’s Festival, Joe Duffy, Marion Keyes, Imelda May, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Senator David Norris, Holly Cairns TD, Ivana Bacik TD, Minister Josepha Madigan TD, Martin Heydon TD, Minister Ossian Smyth, Frances Fitzgerald MEP, Charlie Flanagan TD, Maria Walsh MEP to name a few.
In January 2022 the government announced that St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc would become Ireland’s new annual national holiday from 2023, the first in honour of a woman, our matron saint, celtic goddess, and a celebration of all Mná.
And the rest is history, or rather herstory!
You can learn more about Herstory’s work on Herstory.ie, and all the events, articles, and art inspired by Brigid on BrigidsDay.org.