A sacred fire burned in Kildare reaching back into pre-Christian times. Scholars suggest that priestesses used to gather on the hill of Kildare to tend their ritual fires while invoking a goddess named Brigid to protect their herds and to provide a fruitful harvest.
When St. Brigid built her monastery and church in Kildare she continued the custom of keeping the fire alight. For her and her nuns the fire represented the new light of Christianity, which reached our shores early in the fifth century.
Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) a Welsh Chronicler, visited Kildare in the twelfth century, he reported that the fire of St. Brigid was still burning in Kildare and that it was being tended by nuns of St. Brigid. Some historians record that a few attempts were made to have the fire extinguished but without success. It survived possibly up to the suppression of the monasteries in the sixteenth century.
The sacred fire/flame was re-lit in 1993, in the Market Square, Kildare, by Mary Teresa Cullen, the then leader of the Brigidine Sisters, at the opening of a justice and peace conference. The conference, entitled “Brigid: Prophetess, Earthwoman, Peacemaker” was organised by Afri, (Action from Ireland), a justice, peace and human rights organisation, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Project. Since then, the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare have tended the flame in their centre, Solas Bhride.
Each year the flame burns in the town square for the duration of Feile Bride.
This year (2006) will be significantly different. On February 1 st, St. Brigid’s Day, the flame will be perpetually lit in the town square from the flame tended in Solas Bhride for the past fourteen years.
Kildare County Council has commissioned a sculpture to house the flame. The piece comprises a twisted column, which flourishes at the top into large-scale oak leaves, nestled into which there is a bronze acorn cup holding the flame. The use of oak leaves symbolises both the Christian beliefs of St. Brigid and the earlier Druidic worship of the trees. Of course, the oak is also the namesake of Kildare, Cill Dara, Church of the oak. It is surely an apt and fitting tribute to honour this historic flame. (January 2006)