Irrrrlnd, the land of Guiness and leprechauns and the gift of gab! Ireland, the emerald isle, was enchanting to us. We saw its rolling central hills, the high peaks of the west, and the almost skitzophrenic change as we drove out of Ireland proper into Northern Ireland, part of the UK. One difference you cannot miss is that in Ireland proper all the signs are bilingual, in English and in Irish Gaelic, as soon as you cross into Northern Ireland the Gaelic goes away.
First stop was St. Brigid's Cathedral in the village of Kildare. "Kildare" comes from the Irish "Cill Dara" (pronounce the "c" as a hard "c" like in "cat.") Cill Dara means "Church of the Oak" which is a fitting icon of its meaning. Here a young woman, daughter of a druidic warrior and a Christian mother, accepted the Christian faith under the tutelage of Patrick himself, or so the legend goes. Not wanting to marry as her father wished, she instead began to serve as one of the first Irish nuns. Around her a group of men and women gathered, and in 480 A.D. she formed one of the first double-abbeys in Ireland, of both men and women. An abbey was built under a large oack tree that quickly grew and spawned sister houses all over central Ireland. She became known for her leadership qualities, her works of mercy for the poor and her open arms to all.
Almost nothing is known historically about her outside of the brief sketch above, but just like with Patrick, stories and legends abound. She needed a place for her abbey and approached the local chieftain for a piece of land. \He laughed her off, not wanting to encourage the new Christian religion at all. Finally she convinced him to give her the land her cloak would cover. She then directed four of her sister nuns to take her cloak, each by a corner, and begin walking north, south, east and west. By the time the cloak stopped stretching it covered an area that became known as the Curragh, on which no one is allowed to build even today--it encompasses 800 acres!
\Like the stories with \Patrick, the mix of pre-Christian Celtic thought and images and Christian tenets is a seamlessly woven tapestry of color and surprises. Both are credited, Brigid in her feminine way and Patrick in his masculine way, with Christianizing the island with no bloodshed by using the very fabric of Celtic thought to bring a new way of being to the people.
Oaks were sacred to the druids. Hence Brigid's birthplace and the town that grew up around her abbey are aptly called "The Church of the Oak."