On the grounds of this 12th and 19th century Norman church, it is believed that the Celts worshipped their goddess Brigid. Over the centuries, with the arrival of Christianity, St. Brigid, Viking pillagers and national conflicts, it evolved into the Cathedral honoring the second most popular saint in Ireland, St Brigid. The site has survived as a place of worship, in one form or another, for nearly 1500 years.
The Celtic goddess for whom the Christian St. Brigid was named represented art, poetry, the bounty of the earth, and healing. Nothing of her shrine exists today, but legend has it that the worshippers of the goddess gathered here, near a huge old oak tree. The name Kildare, or Cill Dara, meaning Church of the Oak, carried forth into the times of St. Brigid, and her monastery was widely referred to by this name.
Legend also refers to a fire ritual, where a fire was kept burning on the site continuously by a chaste woman. This ritual also appears to have carried over into St. Brigid’s times. Born and raised in the area around Leinster, St. Brigid’s life story is filled with instances of miracles, including mysteriously appearing dairy products and columns of fire. She lived to serve the poor, and the weak, as well as the animals who needed her help. They flocked to her community for aid and advice, and none were ever turned away. St. Brigid founded her community at Kildare in the 5th century. It was a unique settlement in that both priests and nuns lived there and worked together. Kildare housed a school attended by foreign students and Gaelic nobles alike, and was well known as a centre of learning as well as a refuge for the needy.
During the ninth to eleventh centuries, the Vikings ravaged the buildings on several occasions. When the Normans arrived in 1169, they occupied the area and rebuilt the church. Today, the Church of Ireland’s St. Brigid’s Cathedral is a Norman structure built in 1223. That structure was severely damaged in 1641 during the Confederate wars. It was finally completely restored in the 19th century. Visitors marvel that worship occurred on this site, perhaps continuously, for so many years.
Inside the church, there are many unique and interesting stone carvings, depicting bishops, dragons, and ornate tomb carvings, as well as an old baptismal font that has survived from pre-Norman times. In the graveyard, there stands a 108 ft, 12th century round tower - the second highest in the country. Spectacular views of the Midlands await if you can to climb the stairs to the top. Also on the grounds – a granite high cross and the ruins of St. Brigid’s Fire House, where the legendary fire of St. Brigid once burned.