Book review: Brigid of Kildare by Heather Terrell

I came across this book on Amazon, thanks to a Christmas voucher from my baby brother (he knows me so well!!) Usually, I wouldn’t bother buying fiction about Brigid, because I’ve come across such rotten examples over the years, but I’m glad I picked this one up.

It is definitely a work of fiction, switching between modern Ireland and 5th century Ireland. The main focus of the work is the story of Brigid, a royal princess in Ireland and the story of how she was baptised, ordained as a bishop and how she set up her famous abbey in Kildare. The story also investigates a very demure and innocent “romance” between Brigid and a Roman monk, Decius, as well as a story in the modern day of a major historical find in Kildare.

Predominantly, the book reads historically accurate, if cleansed for modern eyes. A few mistakes crop up: Brigid was not ordained by Patrick, but by Mael, who afterwards claimed the mistake must have been organised by God. Also, Brigid’s mother is presented here as Broicsech, Dubthach’s wife, whereas usually in the hagiographies, Brigid’s mother is a slave. These details didn’t aggravate me too much though, since I enjoyed the story.

It’s a gentle, rolling story, rather than an action-fest. The characterisation is good, the pacing is consistent, the story is interesting. There is a lot that can’t be verified of course, and I would warn against taking this as historical record (I can be certain if there was a Brigidine relic found in Kildare in the last few decades such as is described in the book, we would have heard about it 🙂 ) Equally, the only even remotely romantic exploits ever even hinted at in any of Brigid’s stories is one with her anamchara, Darlughdach. It has been suggested elsewhere that this relationship was romantic in nature, but I think this may in part be to a misunderstanding of the term anamchara (literally: soul friend, but I will do another post on this soon). Hence the relationship with Decius didn’t ring true for me. I would encourage reading it though, for a pleasant afternoon’s reading.

It is written by an American, but she has managed to get the locations right anyway, something not always guaranteed in either fiction or non-fiction. The attention to details like Kildare not being in Dublin is important!

Overall – I’d say read this novel for the enjoyment of it. I wouldn’t depend on it for history, but for entertainment, it’s a lovely book. I was initially unsure if it was intended to be YA (young adult) but that could be just the lack of sex (which maybe says more about my usual reading materials than anything else!!)

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