Melanie Lynch was meditating one rainy Sunday afternoon when she had an “epiphany.”

“If Ireland lights up the place green for St Patrick’s Day, why don’t we light it up in honour of women?” Melanie explains to Irish Country Living.

Thereafter, Herstory light shows began. They started with Nollaig na mBan in 2017 before moving the spectacle to Brigid’s Day in 2020 with the launch of the national holiday campaign. This national campaign resulted in the recognition of Brigid – and all she stood for – when the Government announced the introduction of a new permanent public holiday in January last year.

This national recognition of Brigid is the result of a three-year campaign spearheaded by Herstory, a story-telling platform founded by Melanie. Projects so far include the RTÉ documentary series Herstory: Ireland’s Epic Women. “We know Brigid was a Celtic goddess first and she was celebrated not only in Ireland but across all of Europe through the regions where the Celts roamed,” says Melanie, who grew up in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and now calls Galway home.

“Saint Brigid – who we know was a living, breathing, extraordinary woman – in many ways embodies the qualities of the goddess; incredibly compassionate, caring, a brilliant activist, someone who had great integrity, a sense of justice,” describes Melanie.

A landmark moment

Melanie senses this is a “a landmark moment for the women of Ireland”.

“We now have our own public holiday; we have a celebration of all our women and we are going to have it every year.”

Traditionally, Brigid’s Day is Imbolc, the official first day of spring and the return of the light. To Melanie, this is why Brigid’s Day is so powerful; “it is the time to step out of the darkness and into the light”. This symbolism was what led Melanie to start the light shows as a way to celebrate this special day.

This year, the light shows are taking place in Galway, Roscommon, Kildare and Dublin. Beginning in the city of tribes on 27 January and weaving its way across the country, finishing on 5 February in Dublin.

Transition by artist Courtney Davis illuminating Kilkea Castle for the Herstory Light Festival.

Sparking off the celebrations, Lynch’s Castle in Galway on the corner of Shop Street and Abbeygate Street will illuminate in honour of Brigid, focusing on the strength and spirit of Galway women. In fact, Kate Howard, Galway city arts officer promises this event “will be a celebration of the women of Galway, our Celtic heritage and the fierce yet protective and creative goddess Brigid.”

The spectacle will move on to St Nicholas Church before illuminating the Galway City Museum and will finish at the Pálás cinema on Lower Merchants road at midnight.

This light show is co-produced with the creative team from Dodeca and funded by Galway City Council Creative Ireland in partnership with Galway Arts office. Along with the light shows, photographer Anita Murphy presents a series of empowering contemporary portraits from her Spring Tide project supporting and guiding women through the menopause. Erin Darcy also reveals a collection of art exploring motherhood.

Into the countryside

Outside the city in Gort on Saturday 4 February, a large-scale collaboration between artists Shona MacGillivray and Jill Beardsworth and local community groups takes place in the town square. This initiative identified women whose lives and work embody the qualities that Brigid is known for – those who work quietly in the background, nurturing, protecting, growing, healing, listening and making our world a better place to be. You can see this illumination on the courthouse at dusk.

This theme of promoting the unsung heros of our society is key to Herstory’s work. In 2021, a focus of the light show was on the ‘Corona Heroes.’ Melanie noted there was a focus on the medical front line but asks “what about the food producers?”

“They were essential and continue to be essential to keeping food on the shelves and, in turn, on the table through very challenging times.”

From Galway, Herstory will move to Roscommon on Saturday, 28 January. Melanie will be in conversation with TV personality Mary Kennedy live at the Vaulted Stables at Strokestown Park. That evening the National Famine Museum will illuminate, followed by a shadow puppet show performed by local school children telling the story of Brigid.

From there it is on to Kildare, a county synonymous with Saint Brigid. With this strong connection, Melanie promises a light show across the county on the 31 January and 1 February. Maynooth castle will light up along with the Potato Market in Naas and events in Athy. Art work will feature from an open call and Melanie has been delighted to receive so many different interpretations of Brigid, not just from Ireland but Kazakhstan, Iran, Germany, France and Brazil.

Brigid by artist Courtney Davis illuminating The Wonderful Barn in Leixlip for the Herstory Light Festival.

Overall, Melanie is delighted to see the different ways people are approaching the day and “how they can celebrate their local women and how they celebrate the women in their family, the women in their communities, each other. It is beautiful.”

As we approach a milestone event for Mná na hÉireann this February, Melanie does sound one note of caution.

“This is an opportunity for something very special,” she says. “I really hope It keeps its integrity.”

Lá Fhéile Bríd Shona Daoibh.


Read more

Carrie Acheson, the voice behind the Ploughing, RIP

Nollaig na mBan: inspiring women from rural Ireland