Public holiday for Covid frontline workers hijacked by Catholic evangelisation of culture
Two years ago the government proposed a new public holiday to mark the efforts of frontline workers during the Covid pandemic. The most obvious way to do that would have been to call it the Frontline Workers Public Holiday, or the February Bank Holiday dedicated to the frontline workers during Covid.
Instead, the public holiday was dedicated to Saint Brigid. There was absolutely no need, and indeed it is a distraction, to add religion into this scenario. When the healthcare workers were protecting us from Covid, nobody was applauding Saint Brigid.
Saint Brigid has a very different symbolism, which is religious evangelisation. She supposedly wove a Christian cross out of rushes to convert a pagan chieftain into Christianity as he was dying. That is exactly the wrong message to convey about the multi-cultural Ireland of today.
Some people have suggested that Saint Brigid would balance the public holiday named after the male Saint Patrick. That is a separate issue from the proposed frontline workers public holiday. If we want to have a public holiday dedicated to Irish women, then we should do that separately and not entangle it with religion. Also, adding a new saint does not balance an existing saint. It just reinforces the divisive and anachronistic idea that we all identify with mythological saints that are already over-represented on our calendar.
Other people have suggested that the holiday should celebrate an earlier Brigid, who is a mythological pagan goddess and therefore part of our cultural history and not of religion today. But Paganism is a recognised religion in Ireland today. Pagans legally solemnise marriages. Why should we disrespect Paganism as a religion by pretending it is only part of our cultural history? And why should we disrespect people of no religion or other religions than Paganism and Christianity by enshrining them in public holidays for everyone?
A better balance to a male saint or goddess would have been a women scientist. Physician Dorothy Stopford Price (1890-1954) from Dublin was a pioneer of the BCG vaccine that was central to the elimination of childhood Tuberculosis in Ireland. Chemist Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) from Kildare was was the first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography. There are university buildings named after her in London, Limerick, and Dublin.
Instead we have another religious holiday, dedicated to a symbol of religious evangelisation. And State-funded schools use this symbolism to teach children to make Saint Brigid’s crosses to bring home to their families. As pope Francis has put it, “It is imperative to evangelise cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel.”
There are many examples of this in Irish culture, including our parliamentarians starting each day praying to the Christian God and asking him to direct their words and actions, and the free advert that RTE gives to the Catholic church each day in the form of the Angelus. Changing these is not as important as achieving secular education, but they remain on the agenda as things that need to be changed to reflect the pluralist Ireland that we now inhabit.
Schools making children make Saint Brigid’s crosses may seem harmless on the face of it, but not if you look at it the other way around: If State-funded schools forced even one Catholic child to make an atheist symbol and bring it home to their family, we would never hear the end of it until such indoctrination was rightly ended.