Famous Irish Women greeting cards to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

Feisty, Famous Irish Women.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day I’m launching the first two greetings cards in my new series- Famous Irish Women. The first two women are Queen Maeve of Connacht and St. Brighid of Ireland, one a warrior queen, the other a spiritual leader and god.

Queen Maeve of Connacht

St Brigid of Ireland

Who was Queen Maeve?

Queen Maeve, spelled Medb in the Irish language (Gaelic), was the famous warrior queen of Connacht, a province in western Ireland. Medb is best known as the main protagonist in the epic mythological tale “The Cattle Raid of Cooley” – Táin Bó Cúailnge.  Any enemy warrior who cast his eyes on her would loose one third of his power and courage.

Queen Maeve ruled a large kingdom with a powerful army. She was a woman of great ambition, drive, and energy- characteristics that the Christian monks, who recorded her story in the 8th Century, didn’t quite appreciate in a woman. I like to read between the lines of their patriarchal “spin”, which cautions against the excesses of an “uppity” woman, and revel in her temerity and boldness.

I offer you my own interpretation of Queen Maeve in an effort to cast her in a more positive and empowering light and to inspire us all to celebrate such characteristics in ourselves.

Who was St. Brigid of Ireland?

St. Brigid, (c. 452-525) or Naomh Bríd in the Irish language (Gaelic), is believed to have founded a famous monastery in Kildare, Ireland. Bríd, regarded by many as a god, is one of Ireland’s three patron saints along with St. Patrick and St. Colmcille.

Imbolg and the god Bríd.

St Brigid’s day, February 1st, falls on the pre-Christian Irish spring fertility festival of Imbolg (or Imbolc) – no coincidence I’m sure. Imbolg is one of the four ‘cross-quarter days’ (days that fall approximately half way between the solstice and equinox)  and often referred to in Irish mythology. Many believe the god Bríd was Christianized as St Brigid when the Irish people peacefully adopted Christianity in the 5th century C.E.

Patron saint of many.

Brigid is the patron saint of so many it’s hard to keep track.  Some of my favorites are healers, artists and poetry. Her hagiography is rich in symbolism. In my greeting card design I show several of the symbols or stories associated with her- the oak leaf because Kildare, where she founded her monastery, means the church of the oak in Irish; the tongues of fire around her head are believed to symbolize her connection to the Christian God. The sacred flame was also central to the druids’ faith and a perpetual flame was maintained by nuns at Brigid’s monastery right up to the 15th century.

St. Brigid’s cross – a more ancient symbol.

St. Brigid’s cross is probably the most commonly known object connected to her. In many parts of the country people bring a freshly made (from rushes) Brigid’s cross into their homes each year on February 1st. Recently I learned that the distinctive Brigid’s cross is not only a Christian symbol but also harkens back to the ancient symbol of the great mother god of infinite life-giving powers- the diamond shape in the center of the cross represents the mother god’s navel holding the sacred seed.

My favorite Brigid symbols.

My favorite symbols in the illustration are her traditional Irish cloak or brat (in Irish) and the crozier- symbol of a bishop. Even though the brat features in one of her most famous stories I chose it also because later during the colonial conquest of Ireland in the 17th century the brat, being traditional Irish dress and possibly a symbol of national defiance, was out-lawed by the English. I show her with a bishop’s crozier because many believe that as the founder and abbess of the great Kildare monastery Brigid was indeed a bishop. This is controversial of course given the Catholic Church’s current struggle with accepting women as leaders.

Whether you regard Brigid as a god, saint or bishop, there’s no denying her incredible popularity and influence. St. Brigid was not a leader who exerted power over people but rather one who inspired loyalty through her wisdom and compassion- an empowering leader. Bríd the god was the self-generating mother god representing the earth’s life force- a very powerful figure. I hope you enjoy my new greeting cards celebrating Brigid and Maeve. There are many more to come – Ireland has no shortage of interesting, inspiring women.

Aislinn Adams.

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