he Hebrides, Na h-eileanan an lar, are beautiful magical isles off the west of mainland Scotland. The Hebrides are truly liminal and have a powerful spirit which for me is that of Bride, the goddess from whom the Isles take their name. In these Isles the love and reverence for Bride was so strong that she retained her identitiy as a saint. Many of the customs that we now practice have their origin in these Isles. The goddess is truly alive here and is manifest in the landscape as some of the photos show.
Coast at Cille Brighde, South Uist
Places which still bear Bride's name can be found throught the isles. On South Uist there is Cille Brighde overlooking the Sound of Barra (OS NF755145). This may be the place where St. Bride is said to have set foot on the Hebrides with an oyster catcher on each wrist. On Harris there is Sgarasta with its standing stone (OS NG021938) where there once stood a chapel dedicated to St. Bride. On Lewis there is a well sacred to St. Bride called Tobar Brighid at Mealabost Bhuigh off the A857 (OS NB411573). On the Isle of Skye there are the faint remains of two chapels dedicated to St. Bride, one at Kilbride Point (OS NG373661) and the other at Kilbride off of the B8083 (OS NG591204). On Coll there is a Kilbride off the B8070 (OS NM194548).
Kilbride Chapel, Lamlash, Isle of Arran
photo, Heather Upfield 2009
Kilbride Parish Church, Lamlash, Isle of Arran
Rebuilt 1886 (14th c foundation (OS NS025309))
photo, Heather Upfield 2010
St. Bride's Lochranza, Isle of Arran
Rebuilt 1712 (OS NR937501)
photo, Heather Upfield 2010
In the Southern Hebrides there is Kilbride parish on the East coast of the Isle of Arran and the remains of Kilbride Chapel off the A841 near Lamlash (OS NS030322). Off the South coast of the Isle of Islay lies Eilean Bhride (The Isle of Bride) (OS NR459476). Also on Islay, to the North East of Port Ellen off the A846, is the Kilbride Standing Stone (OS NR384466). From this standing stone the sun sets between the hills around Imbolc. There is another Eilean Bhride to the East of the Paps of Jura on the Isle of Jura off the A846 to the North of Craighouse (OS NR554698). On the coast nerarby there is Rubha Bhride (Bride's Point) (OS NR557707).
St. Bride is also associated with Iona. It is said that St. Bride went to live on Iona until she was taken up in a dark blue mantle by two angels and transported to Bethlehem to be the foster mother of the new born Jesus.
The Orkney Islands lie off the north eastern tip of Scotland and are blessed with a rich history that is woven into the very fabric of the land. Sites such as Skara Brae, Maes Howe, The Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness are well know but every island has its own standing stones and tombs. Norse legend tells us that when the Christian missionaries arrived on Orkney the old gods and goddesses retreated to the rivers and springs.
The Island of Papa Westray used to celebrate ”Gyro Night”. This custom died out as the First World War began but is thought to have coincided with St. Bride's Day. The boys lit torches and set off into the dark to entice the Gyros from their hiding places. The Gyros were men dressed as old women. If the boys found a Gyro she would hit them with a piece of rope until they outran her. The name Gyro comes from the Norse “Gygr”, a troll woman. This custom may well have been a way of defeating the Winter Hag so that Bride could usher in the Spring.
There are remains of old churches dedicated to St. Bride on the Islands of North Ronaldsay and Graemsay.
The West of Galloway has two peninsulars, the Machars and the Rhins. Each of these have a parish called Kirkmadrine and a parish called Kirkmaiden. Their stories contain interesting parallels with the story of Brighid.
The site of the Machars Kirkmadrine (OS NX475482) is near Penkiln where there are early rock carvings depicting stags and horses. The site of the Rhins Kirkmadrine (OS NX080484) contains a Victorian mausoleum chapel approached along a tree lined path. The chapel contains three pre-christian monoliths.
Kirkmaiden Machars (OS NX365399) was a centre of pilgrimage associated with St. Medan. The remains of a medieval church still nestle by the sea close to the site of St. Medan's Well. Kirkmaiden Rhins originally stood on a mound by Kirk Burn (OS NX138324) but the church was re-built further inland after the National Covenant of 1638 (OS NX125369).
Daphne Brooke suggests that St. Madrun of the Kirkmadrines is the Celtic goddess Modron and that the ancient carvings and monoliths may be associated with her. She further suggests that St. Medan of the Kirkmaidens is also a Celtic goddess associated with water healing. Torchlight processions of the whole parish to her healing wells before dawn on the first Sunday in May survived the extremes of the Scottish Reformation into the 19th century. For a much fuller discussion see, "Saints and Goddesses: The Interface with Celtic Paganism" by Daphne Brooke, published by the Friends of Whithorn Trust (ISBN 0 9525726 7 2).