I should like a great lake of ale for the King of Kings; I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal." So begins Brigit's prayer as recorded in an eighth-century manuscript. The prayer goes on to describe the party as one in which "barrels of peace" and "vessels of charity" lead to good cheer. Clearly, this Brigit was no ascetic. On the contrary, Brigit's style as abbess of Kildare was that of the perfect hostess, always welcoming the great and the lowly with equal warmth, serving generously and meeting every need.

This is but one of the many aspects of Brigit's life that scholars debate—some even argue she is a complete fabrication, a Christianized version of the pagan Celtic goddess of the same name. The historical Brigit is now impossible to recover in the forest of legend and fact that has come down to us. Still, this Brigit is the one who has been revered by generations of Irish Christians.

In many respects she is the female counterpart of Patrick and is beloved among the Irish as "dove among birds, vine among trees, sun among stars." She lived to serve Jesus by feeding the poor and vanquishing misery wherever she found it. Her fondness for beer is only an extension of her merry approach to life. Legend even tells us that she once supplied a man with an aphrodisiac so that his wife would find him irresistible.

Her inauspicious beginning—born out of wedlock in 454 and raised by a druid—only serves to reinforce the homeliness and sympathy Brigit is best known for. She embraced society's outcasts as her own family, and freely dispensed the grace that flowed through her.

Her generosity even extended to things that didn't belong to her. It is said her relationship with her father, rocky at times, ...

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