Herstory Profiles: Irish Women of Faith, Activism and Politics by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

As it is March, and March is a month for me that is always devoted to celebrating my Irish roots and women, my Herstory Profiles will be on a few exemplary women from Ireland: Brigid (Irish Goddess and Catholic Saint), Margaret O’ Carroll of Éile (Paragon of Leadership, Strength, and Compassion), and Mary Robinson (Historic Leader, Activist, and Humanitarian.)

We look first to one of the most known religious, divine females in Ireland – Brigid. She plays a fascinating role as she is both in the Celtic Religion (Predates Christianity and can be considered part of the indigenous religion of the Celtic Isles) and as a Christian monastic/saint. She has many variations of names and celebrations but she is first and foremost  crucial and important enough to last through the ages and changes in religious traditions.

Brig, Brigid, Brigit – the Celtic Goddess of wisdom, poetry, healing, protection, smithing, and domesticated animals. There is evidence that she was considered at times, a triple deity; Brigid the Poet, Brigid the healer, and Brigid the Smith.

She is heavily rooted in the Celtic religion and in daily Irish life. Her symbols and practices are found not just in the ruins of Irish burial mounds, artifacts but also in songs, folklore, and the arts.

Enter Catholicism/Christianity to the Emerald Isle. Brigid became a formidable and immoveable force. Brig the goddess and all her practice, worship, and presence became St. Brigid of Kildare.

Saint Brigid is the patroness of healers, poets, blacksmiths, livestock, and dairy workers. She is the patroness of Ireland and is seen as a counterpart, co-partner to St. Patrick. St. Brigid’s Feast Day for Christianity is February 1st which just so happens to also be the Celtic festival of Imbolc, a celebration of spring, the coming of light and also known as the day blessed by the goddess Brigid. Imbolc is part of the four major festivals for Celtic/Gaelic religions. St. Brigid’s Cross is still used and seen all over. In Medieval Hagiographies, Brigid was an abbess who founded the Abbey in Kildare. She is honored in the Catholic, Anglican, Church of Ireland, Church of England, and Episcopal Churches. While the world knows and honors St. Patrick, it is Brigid who is long standing and foundationally divine figures in the past, the present, and the future.

Our next amazing person is that of Margaret O’Carroll. Margaret O’Carroll of Éile also known as Margaret the Hospitable was born in the 15th Century. She married the Chief of Offaly and became a formidable leader alongside her husband and independently as well. As stated by the Women’s Museum of Ireland, “a medieval queen in a time of war and conquest.”

She focused on building roads, highways, bridges, and churches. She sponsored reading and religious life. She would host a banquet twice a year for the arts and the poor. She sponsored great festivals that celebrated literature in the 1440s! In 1445, Margaret completed the Santiago de Compostela in Spain. (Irish popularity of the Camino has continued since Margaret O’Carroll’s feat.) Margaret was a paragon of leadership and devotion, champion of arts, and a crucial builder of Irish society and spirituality.

Which leads us to our last woman, an Irish President and much more, Mary Robinson. Mary Robinson, a lawyer, politician and diplomat was the first woman to be elected as Ireland’s President from 1990-1997.

She became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She has made a career of focusing on progressive policies and human rights. Within her own country, she became the first president to visit Britain and Northern Ireland to start to rebuild/repair/foster better communication and relationships between them. She was the first head of state to visit Somalia after its civil war and famine in 1992. She was the first head of state to visit Rwanda after the Ethnic Genocide in 1994.

As High Commissioner she visited China, Kosovo and was the secretary general of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.

Mary Robinson’s influence and dedication did not just stay in the Emerald Isle. She received the 2009 U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“The President described Mary Robinson as “an advocate for the hungry and haunted, the forgotten and ignored” and said she “has not only shone a light on human suffering but illuminated a better future for our world”.

Trinity College, Dublin News Article

She has dedicated her career on created equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership, and ensuring democracy. Her legacy is for gender equality, women’s roles in peace-building, human dignity, and climate justice. You can watch Mary Robinson’s Inauguration speech when she was elected the Irish President.  

These three Irish women have moved mountains, built countries, healed bodies and souls, and pushed us to embrace our compassion and humanity. So I leave you with the words of former President Robinson and the Prayer of St. Brigid.

“I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”

Mary Robinson

***Additional Readings Sources

Angela Bourke (ed.), The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, New York University Press, 2000, p.622.

Anna T. Sadler, The Women of Catholicity, Sagwan Press, 2015.

Fergus Finlay, Mary Robinson: A President with a Purpose (O’Brien Press, 1991)

Gillian Kenny, Anglo-Irish and Gaelic Women in Ireland, c. 1170-1540. Dublin, Ireland; Portland, OR: Four Courts Press. 2007, p. 218.

Russel Knowles, The Goddess Brigid, Somerset, England; Green Magic, 2019.

***Additional Online Resources







Author: Anjeanette LeBoeuf

A PhD candidate in Women's Studies in Religion with focuses on South Asian Religions and Popular Culture. Rhinos, Hockey, Soccer, traveling, and reading are key to the world of which I have created

6 thoughts on “Herstory Profiles: Irish Women of Faith, Activism and Politics by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”

  1. Celebrating women under the sheltering aspect of Brigid seems like a wise thing to do…. Brigid is, after all a mistress of the changing seasons. Perhaps She will help us to open out hearts to reach those women who are stuck wearing men’s attire…inside and out.

    Liked by 2 people

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