RUSH CROSSES IN THE ROSSES
The townland of Thorr was mentioned last week as the ‘end of the line’ into the very heart of the Highlands-across Sliabh Sneachta (only three miles as the crow flies!) lies the upper or eastern end of the Gweebarra Valley. Had we gone sea-wards from Crolly, the ‘end of the line’ would be located in the vicinity of Carraig Mheadhbha (Meave’s Rock) near the Tragh Bhán or White Strand at Tóin Rann na Feirsde (Bottom of Ranafast).
AT FAMOUS RANNAFAST
The most Gaelic-minded community in all Donegal is to be found here-a fountain-head of folklore and a reservoir of resurgent nationalism. This is the rugged rock-strew peninsula which gave to Ireland Séamus (Fheilimidh) Mhac Grianna, known to, at least, three succeeding generations of language-learners and literati as “Máire.”
Father Murray, energetic and enthusiastic revivalist, travelled Tír Chonaill in quest of an ideal environment for the Irish college which he had then in embryo. He found his beav ideal at Rann na Feirsde (the Promontory of the Sea-Ford). And here he founded the now-famous Colaiste Bhrighde. Its emblem is St. Brigid’s rush “crosog” inside the circumscription “Brat Bhrighde Orraibh.”
ST BRIGID’S EVE
On the night of Monday next, the last day of January, that old custom of the “rush-crosses” (on St Brigid’s Eve) will be observed in Rannafast and, indeed, all over The Rosses hinterland. The children may be seen at dusk, hooks in hand, down along the banks of some sweetly murmuring stream looking for the longest and most luscious green rushes that grow there.
A full fat sheaf of them is bound and brought home-to be placed standing against the gable (binn a’ toighe) until the supper and the festivities of oidhche-choinn-féile are over.
Among the Big Days of the Christian Year in the Gaeltacht of Tír Chonaill, Christmas, Patrick’s Day and Easter are the most outstanding-and for them much preparation is made, even in the poorest of homes. Who would sup sorrow to such dregs as:
‘Lá Nodlag Mór gan im,
Mairt Inide gan feoil,
Domhnach Cásca gan uibheach:
Sé d’fág mé ‘sileadh deor’?
[Christmas without butter,
Shrove without meat,
Easter without eggs: no wonder I weep!]
The Big Nights, that we look-forward-to during the bleak darkness of the winter in the wilderness, are Hallow E’en, Christmas and Oidhche Fheil’ Bhrighde. Though Samhain is synonymous with the beginning of a spell of ease-by-day and áirneal by night, St Brigid’s Eve is a harbinger of newborn hope-with lengthening daylight, early flowers and, later on, the lambs that frolic in Spring where frozen pastures pined and perished in the icy ear of wind and rain.
But the áirneal or cearbhachas (card-playing) is finished for the night. The big delph tea-pot is purring in the white turf embers. A speckled scone of currant-cake is being cut. And other appetising nuaidheachtaí add a fresh fillip of anticipation to hunger that youth seems ever blessed with! “Sé’n féasta is blasta a thigeas go h-annamh” (the sweetest feast is that which is seldom sampled).
The Man o’ the House has now gone for “Brigid.” He carries the sheaf to the doras mór (front-door) with the exhortation: “Gabhaighidh ar bhur nglúine, fosglaighidh bhur súile agus leigigidh isteach Bhrigid!” (Go on your knees, open your eyes and let in Brigid!”-to which all inside give welcome with: Sé beatha! sé beatha!” Similiar salutations are exchanged at the back-door, and then once more at the threshold. The third response from the kneeling household is:
Sé beatha! sé beatha! sé beatha na Mná Uaisle! (sometimes Brighid Bheannaighthe), ie., The Lady of Blessed Brigid. The sheaf is temporarily deposited under the table until the meal is partaken-of.
“FAOI BHRAT BHRIGHDE”
After supper, the whole family sit around the humble hearth and set about weaving those wonderfully variegated rush-and-straw crosses that are seen in both the houses and the byres attached to every Gaelic homestead in The Rosses.
Holy Water is sprinkled on them next morning (Lá Fheil’ Brighde) before being placed on high as a protection against all ills and evils of the coming year.
In “olden days of undefiled belief,” each member of the family left some garment, e.g., a scarf, cap or handkerchief, out-side in a basket or creel all night. On the following morning it was collected and treasured as “Brat Bhrighdhe”-to be carried on journeys or in times of danger.
At the final night of the ‘Misiún Mór” over fifty years ago, the gallery in Dungloe chapel was overcrowded and sagging dangerously. A woman from “The Hills” tore off her silken head-dress and waved it “Brat Bhrighde idir sinn agus an urchoid.” No one was injured.
Sophisticated city-folk of to-day may feel inclined to scoff, perhaps; but the Rannafast foundation has become and remains the foremost Gaelic College in all Eire-“faoi Bhrat Bhrighde,” i.e., under the aegis of our Mary of the Gael.
From a series of articles that appeared in the Derry People in 1949