Saint Brigid of Kildare

Life, legend and cult


Noel Kissane

Paperback €22.45
Catalogue Price: €24.95
ISBN: 978-1-84682-632-0
June 2017. 360pp; ills.

“Noel Kissane’s Saint Brigid of Kildare: Life, Legend and Cult traces devotion to Saint Brigid from the obscure beginnings of her cult in early medieval Ireland to the present day ... Kissane maintains that “St. Brigid was by far the most popular Irish saint outside Ireland” (297), in some cases even surpassing St. Patrick, and the mass of evidence Kissane musters leaves the reader in little doubt of the truth of this claim ... The controversy over Brigid’s status as a goddess is a theme that runs throughout the book … one of Dr. Kissane’s most striking findings is that St. Brigid underwent a comparatively recent resurgence in popularity in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in connection with the work of the Gaelic Revival, when interest in both the goddess and the saint was piqued among those who sought an “authentic” Irish identity in the remote Celtic past” … The mass of detail is both impressive and, at times, overwhelming; yet lurking within the catalogue of liturgical office and church dedications, there is an important argument about the cult of Brigid: She was by far the most important female Irish saint not just in Ireland but throughout Europe, and, somewhat surprisingly, there are instances in which she outranks St. Patrick in importance ... Kissane has produced a fascinating compendium of evidence about Brigid that will serve the needs of scholars of medieval hagiography and liturgy and of modern popular religious devotion alike, and its many fascinating details will delight the less academic reader as well. Who knew, for example, that Oliver Cromwell, notorious in Ireland for his vigorous efforts to suppress an Irish rebellion, named his eldest daughter, born decades before he set foot in Ireland, Brigid? Alas, we have no record of whether, when she arrived in Ireland in 1651 as the wife of Cromwell’s hardly less notorious general, Henry Ireton, her name caused any comment among the local inhabitants.” Jennifer Paxton, Church History 2022

'The great merit of this new book on St Brigid of Kildare is that it distils into one very readable volume the varied aspects of the study of the legend and cult associated with Ireland's premier female saint. Those connected with any of the myriad parish churches, schools, holy wells, or football clubs in all parts of Ireland that are dedicated to St Brigid will find all they need to know about the saint's cult within its pages. Indeed they will almost certainly find their own parish/school/club mentioned in the detailed gazetteer of the dedications to St Brigid in every county in Ireland ... The book is beautifully produced and enhanced by a wide variety of well-chosen illustrations. If you have any association with a parish, school, or organisation dedicated to St Brigid, or are interested in the transition from paganism to Christianity, this is a book you should read', Bernadette Cunningham, SEARCH (2018).

'This book, based on a lifetime of research, is testament to the enduring power of the essentially protean figure that Brigid is, and her continuing power to provoke debate and inspire the imagination. Her actions as told to us in ancient sources continue to resonate today, and Noel Kissane has expertly detailed the remarkable and enduring impact of this woman on Irish and European faith, folklore and literature over hundreds of years. The devotion to his subject is admirable and this book is a handsome and exhaustive tribute to Brigid whether the reader decides to see her as woman, goddess or saint — or perhaps all three', Gillian Kenny, History of Women Religious (2018). 

‘Noel Kissane’s book of over 350 pages details [Saint Brigid’s] story and the influence it has exercised, from earliest times down to the many modern reminders of the saint, in names of churches, parishes, townlands, schools, religious orders, and secular associations, including numerous GAA clubs … By devoting what amounts to a lifetime of research to Brigid, while also engaged on his duties as Education Officer and Keeper of Manuscripts in the National Library, Noel Kissane has paid a handsome tribute to Ireland’s national female saint', Padraig Ó Riain, The Irish Catholic (2017).

'After exhaustive and scholarly examination, the author concludes that, in all probability, Brigid was indeed a real person  ... This fascinating book is a treasure-trove of accessible information and is a notable triumph for author, Noel Kissane. His erudite and illuminating study of Saint Brigid greatly enhances our understanding of our unique Irish heritage, upon which he furnishes a compelling and memorable perspective. Likewise, Four Courts Press are to be warmly congratulated on the exemplary standards of presentation of this splendid volume', Séamus Mac Gabhann, Ríocht na Midhe (2018).

‘An expansive book on an elusive woman … Full of extraordinary nuggets of information which deepen and contextualise Brigid’s place in the Catholic hierarchy of medieval Europe … This book … is testament to the enduring power of the essentially protean figure that Brigid is, and her continuing power to provoke debate and inspire the imagination. Her actions as told to us in ancient sources continue to resonate today, and Noel Kissane has expertly detailed the remarkable and enduring impact of this woman on Irish and European faith, folklore and literature over hundreds of years. The devotion to his subject is admirable and this book is a handsome and exhaustive tribute to Brigid whether the reader decides to see her as a woman, goddess or saint – or perhaps all three’, H-WRBI online review (May 2018).

 ‘Kissane’s survey of Brigid’s life, legend and cult is thorough. It is clear that careful consideration has been given to each aspect and his use of sources is extensive. It is also refreshing to see such a survey fluidly take into account the medieval origins right through to modern perceptions … this text strives to provide a depth of understanding and appears to largely achieve its intended result’, Claire Collins, Journal of Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland (2016).

‘A work that will delight the local historian, folklorist, medievalist, place-name specialist, church historian and students of many other disciplines ... well researched, wonderfully presented and very readable account … the author examines the hagiography and legend of Brigid to provide a fascinating account of how the devotion, cult and fame of this early Irish covert to Christianity spread across Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe in the early medieval period with churches named in her honour throughout these lands', Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette (2017).

'Kissane's book is a good starting place for anyone interested in the Brigidine tradition or in Irish saints' cults at any point in history ... It is rather in its survey of the cult than in the attempt to analyse and interpret its history that the value of this book lies, and that value is considerable ... This extensive survey of all aspects of the cult of Brigid will serve students and scholars as an invaluable resource as they undertake further research', Catherine A. McKenna, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies (2018).

'There are many admirable aspects of this book, which is a pleasure to read; it is, for example, admirably compendious, setting out to address all aspects of St Brigid from the textual evidence, to the history, to the cult down to the present day ... The value of this book is that it is a compendious repository of much useful information, gathered in one place ... For those interested in the history of medieval Ireland it will be a useful addition to their book collection', Ali Bonner, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (2018). 

'The GREAT merit of this new book on St Brigid of Kildare is that it distils into one very readable volume the varied aspects of the study of the legend and cult associated with Ireland's premier female saint. Those connected with any of the myriad parish churches, schools holy wells, or football clubs in all parts of Ireland that are dedicated to St Brigid will find all they need to know about the saint's cult within its pages. Indeed they will almost certainly find their own parish/school/club mentioned in the detailed gazetteer of the dedications to St Brigid in every county in Ireland ... The book is beautifully produced and enhanced by a wide variety of wellchosen illustrations. If you have any association with a parish, school, or organisation dedicated to St Brigid, or are interested in the transition from paganism to Christianity, this is a book you should read.' Bernadette Cunningham, Search (2018).