Wednesday, February 01, 2023

By James Reddiough

When I was a child in Bofield National School, we used to go out on ‘The Brideog’ on January 31.

We dressed up for the occasion and would look forward to the day with joy and excitement. This was in honour of St Brigid whose feast day will be celebrated tomorrow, Wednesday, February 1.

The making of St Brigid’s Crosses continues to be a tradition of yesteryear enjoyed by schoolchildren all over Ireland.

The tradition of ‘The Brideog’ was celebrated in different ways around Ireland. For example, in the Schools Folklore Collection, the following description is used for ‘The Brideog’ in Tuam:

“On the night before St Brigid’s Day, boys go round the town with the Brideog.

“It consists of a stick or a piece of turf with a cloth and they ask for a penny for the Brideog.

“They go round in honour of St Brigid who was an Irish Saint. Nearly all poor boys go round because long ago St Brigid was very kind to the poor.”

In Co Kildare, the tradition was described as follows:

“On St Brigid’s Eve, all the boys and girls of the district gathered together and one of them would bring a churn dash. This they dressed up in clothes and they had a face painted or the head. This figure represented St Brigid.

“Then a couple of them carried it round from house to house and the rest followed after. They left it on the floor and danced around it.”

In my time in the 1970s, we would put on our costumes and face coverings and then meet at a central point to commence our tour of the houses in the villages, entertaining each household and receiving some monetary reward for our performance. The entertainment might consist of a song, poem, joke or piece of music with maybe a step of a dance thrown in for good measure. The people of the house would praise and encourage us and then give us a few pence so that we could buy sweets in the nearby village or the local shop.

At this time, there were shops in Attymass and Bonniconlon as there were in villages all around rural Mayo. There were shops in the townlands too, especially in Bofield where the Fox family had a nice shop and the Strogen family ran a nice shop in Cartron, Attymass where we went often as children. You could purchase sweets, chocolate and ice cream there as well as minerals or soft drinks.

When we had completed our tour of the houses we would regroup and count the takings and divide it up. Then it was off to the shop to buy the goodies.

The same was true of St Stephen’s Day when we went out as Wren Boys from house to house in the aftermath of Christmas Day.

These were special times in our childhood when townland life was vibrant and there were more children in each village for us to play together. Summer days seemed endless and we had many great adventures.

The older people had a great welcome for the youngsters and were very generous, even if they did not have much material wealth and often struggled to make ends meet. It was not unusual for adults to give us money as kids when they met us in town and if you were going on holiday they would come to the house with sweets and money for you to spend on the train and boat as they were the common methods of travel to England during the 1970s.

In my mother’s time, the older adults would cycle to Ballina to shop for the week and bring sweets to give to the children they met once they arrived back in their own area. They were splendid people and their likes will not be seen again, and it is nice to see that the people who came after them still look out for each other in the community even if the onset of technology ended the rambling house tradition that was on the wane when I was a child between 1972 and 1982 in the foothills of the Ox Mountains.

They were happy times when we all played and roamed together in our gold and silver days.

Footnote: While the tradition of ‘going out on the Brideogs’ may have disappeared like the snows of winter, it is great to see that children in Mayo and elsewhere continue to make St Brigid’s Crosses, something that was such a part of my childhood too.

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By Western People
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