Letters to the Taoiseach back February 1 date
St Brigid’s Day is the most popular choice for a new bank holiday among people who wrote to the Taoiseach on the subject, newly released documents show.
Reasons given for choosing February 1 pointed to the day’s Celtic heritage and the opportunity it gave to celebrate women in Irish life.
“I could see it as a celebration of women that would encompass events throughout the country as Brigid spreads her cloak of spring,” one Kerry resident wrote, adding that the local tradition of “Biddy’s Day” could be revived.
Another message said that a St Brigid’s Day holiday would recognise “that so many on the frontline are female”, adding that a special remembrance service could be held on February 1 to mark those lost to Covid-19.
Another person described Brigid as “a latter-day Greta Thunberg”, adding: “While living over 1,500 years ago, her messages of justice as the cornerstone of peace and protecting the delicate balance of nature have eerie relevance to the acute issues we face today.”
Melanie Lynch, the head of Herstory, a movement aimed at amplifying the voices of women in Irish history, wrote to the Taoiseach as part of the group’s campaign to make St Brigid’s Day a public holiday.
She cited the saint’s “healing powers and compassion for the sick and poor” as appropriate.
“Already Ireland has three bank holidays dedicated to men – Jesus, Stephen and Patrick. In the 21st century we still are waiting for a bank holiday to celebrate an Irish woman and Mná na hÉireann,” she wrote.
Ms Lynch also argued that Brigid was particularly relevant to modern Ireland, pointing to references by medieval monks in ancient annals that the saint was “Ireland’s first recorded abortionist” and “a lesbian”.
“Following the success of the Marriage Equality and Repeal the Eighth referendums, this makes her as relevant and contemporary as any celebrity,” she said.
However, not everyone who wrote to the Taoiseach was supportive of a holiday celebrating a religious figure.
The chairperson of Atheist Ireland, Michael Nugent, described it as “a distraction” to bring religion into the debate on when the new holiday should take place.
“She [St Brigid] supposedly wove a Christian cross out of rushes to convert a pagan chieftain to Christianity as he was dying. This is exactly the wrong message to convey about the multi-cultural Ireland of today,” he said.
Mr Nugent proposed that the new holiday be called “the Frontline Workers’ Public Holiday” and suggested two Irish female scientists the day could celebrate instead of a religious figure – Dorothy Stopford Price, who helped eliminate childhood TB in Ireland, and Kathleen Lonsdale, a prominent chemist and pacifist who sheltered refugees during World War II and campaigned for prison reform.
The Frontline Emergency and Security Services Éire Forum called on the Taoiseach to make National Services Day – which has since 2018 been held on the first Saturday of September to recognise frontline workers – a holiday.
The timing of a new public holiday has fuelled widespread debate since it was first mooted by the Government last September.
On Tuesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed a double bank holiday this St Patrick’s Day was in the offing, with plans to make St Brigid’s Day an annual holiday from next year.
The February 1 date for a new holiday had its opponents, with some people who wrote to Mr Martin asking that a “Thanksgiving” day be created in late autumn.
Another writer suggest- ed the new holiday could celebrate local communities.
One enterprising 10-year-old girl wrote to the Taoiseach in September, asking for a bank holiday on November 1.
“I am asking this because we had a tough Halloween last year because of Covid-19,” she wrote.
“It was very bad. Please, we all deserve a nice Halloween this year. It is kind of spoiled because we have school the next day, so please give us the day off.”