A way back in the times long past there was a woman called Nan Quine living with her husband Tom, and their one child Paie, in a bit of a croft on the track that goes up from the shore at Laxey to the mountains. Tom and Paie would be busy and happy as the day was long, Paie helping her father on the croft, or the pair of them in and out of the neighbours’ houses and welcome wherever they went. But no person would want to be neighbouring with Nan, unless it was Mistress Kewley who never minded whose house she was in so long as it wasn’t her own. Nan was the biggest grumbler and complainer you could meet in a day’s walking. Sharp as the east wind she was. Nothing ever went right for her. The thatch was leaking. The milk was sour. The butter wouldn’t come in the churn. There was no end to her grumbling.
Now one winter’s day when the wind was blowing showers of sleet down over the mountains, there was a knock at Nan’s door. It was Mistress Kewley, tired of her own house, come to put a sight on her.
“How are you woman?” she asked, taking a seat before the turf fire.
“Going and grumbling, Mistress Kewley, going and grumbling.”
“And what have YOU got to grumble about?”
“You may well ask. Everything, I’m telling you! Everything! There’s that man of mine now away off this afternoon to help Juan Crellin to mend the barn roof and a thousand and one things to be done on his own croft.”
“Aye. That’s the way with men.”
“You’re right! He should know better. After a bad summer at the fishing and a bad harvest you would think he would be trying to keep the place from going to rack and ruin. But here I am left on my own. No person to do a hand’s turn. Everything against me! Indeed I’m often saying there’s no bad luck anywhere that doesn’t come to this door. But what can you do? That’s the way and there it is.”
Mistress Kewley was quiet for a minute and then she suddenly said, “I believe though you could do something and this very day too.”
“And what would that be?”
“Tonight is the night the old people used to be calling St Bridget’s Night.” said Mistress Kewley.
“It’s the first of February, I know that, because that’s the day the weaver was coming to collect the thread and he came this morning.”
“St. Bridget’s Night it is then.”
“Like enough, but how is this night different from any other night?”
“Well my mother used to say that this was the night of the year to turn your luck. On this one night of all the year Bridget would be wandering the roads looking for a place to rest her head.”
“Yes, I remember now. My mother would have the same story too. The people would be baking a soda cake for her and getting the bed ready and then going to the door and asking her to come in.”
“Yes. And any house that she went in would be sure to have luck for the rest of the year. Why don’t you give it a try yourself now? There’s maybe something in these old stories.”
“Is there time do you think?”
“Time enough. Time enough. Let me give Paie a shout to come in and help you.”
At last the door was pushed open and Paie, her eyes round with wonder at the sight of the best linen cloth, white as mountain snow, the china cup and the plate and the saucer, all set out on the kitchen table.
“You’re not expecting any person to come to the house are you?” she asked.
“I am that and I’m all in a hurries to get the place ready. The bedroom is not swept out yet and there’s a thousand other things to be done. Get you the sweeping brush and shovel and the grey goose wing for sweeping all the corners and sweep out the bedroom. Then take a bucket of water and scrub the floor. I’ll be here in the kitchen making the soda cake and setting the table for supper. When that’s done I’ll be ready to make the bed. Hurry now for there’s no time to lose!”
“But who is there coming mother?”
“Wait now and you’ll see. Away with you and do what I’m telling.”
Paie disappeared into the little bedroom and starting sweeping and in the kitchen Mistress Kewley sat till all was done. Then she got up to go.
“I declare! I’ve never seen the like,” she said. “The fine linen sheets and the grand wool blankets on the bed! The table laid with all the best you have in the house. I tell you the Governor or the Bishop or the Deemster might be glad to sit down in this house tonight! Now are you sure you know what to do?” Without waiting to find out she went on, “Before you go to bed, go to the door and invite Bridget to come in. You’ll open the door and you’ll say, “Bridget, Bridget, if you visit any house, visit my house tonight.” Then you’ll leave the door on the latch and go to bed and leave the house for Bridget. In the morning, if the bed has been slept in and the food eaten, you’ll know Bridget has been to visit you and you’ll have good luck.”
With her hand on the door she turned back. “You must have rushes to spread on the floor. Have you gathered any rushes?”
“No, I forgot about that,” said Nan.
“Go cut a bundle from the field behind our house. There’ll be enough light for a while yet. Good luck on you now.”
“Who is Bridget Mother?”
“One of the holy saints of times past. The old people used to say that when she was a bit of a girl she would be working in the fields and helping with the animals and doing the churning on her father’s farm. This one night of all the year they say she’s wandering the roads looking for a place to rest.”
“I hope she’ll come here. I wonder what she’ll look like?”
“I’ve heard tell she would be dressed in blue. Bridget Blue Mantle people used to call her. But if she comes we’ll have gone to bed so we won’t be seeing her anyway. Get you some turf now the way I can make up the fire and go out for the rushes before the dark. Though why I should have to go and get them I don’t know. It’s a pity your father’s not back yet.”
It was very quiet after her mother had gone. Paie took out her sock and started knitting. The clock ticked and the old cat purred in front of the fire and she thought of Bridget who, when she was a young girl, had helped on the farm and in the dairy just as she did. She longed for Bridget to come to the house, even though she might never see her.
Surely if she got two invitations she would know she was welcome and be sure to come so Paie got up and went to the door. She opened it and stood there listening and after a while she said in a clear, small voice, “Bridget, Bridget, if you visit any house, visit our house tonight.”
All at once the sea grew quiet, the gulls stopped calling and Paie grew frightened at what she had done so she rushed in, shut the door and sat down with her knitting again. After a while she was roused by a timid knock at the door and a voice calling, “Is there any person in?”
When Paie plucked up the courage to go and open the door she found it was an old woman asking for shelter from the elements, as beggars and wandering people of the roads often did.
“Come and welcome,” said Paie, making room for her in the seat by the hearth. “Give me your coat now and I’ll be drying it for you,” and she spread the old woman’s tattered and faded garment on a chair before the fire.
“Take your shoes off and dry them too.”
“I’ll be glad enough to do that child. I came over the mountain track and the heather is wet and the bog holes full of water at this time of year.”
“You’ll be hungry then.”
“Well if you’ve a bit of bread to spare I would do well enough with it.”
“Yes. We’ve plenty of bread tonight. We’re expecting a visitor. There now. Take this,” and she cut her a good slice off the newly baked soda bread on the table.
After she had eaten, the old woman sat warming her hands at the red turf glow and she grew drowsy and her head nodded in the heat. Her face looked tired and wrinkled and Paie felt sorry she should be wandering the roads.
“Would you like a little rest now before you go out again? There’s a bed ready for a visitor. Bridget it is that’s coming. But she’s a woman of the roads herself tonight and I don’t suppose she’d be minding if you had a bit of a sleep on her bed until the rain was gone.”
“I’ll do that child, but mind now and don’t let me sleep too long for I’ve a good way to travel before morning.”
Paie promised and left her. The house felt friendly and happy now and she did not mind being alone in the kitchen.
By and by she heard her mother’s step on the road outside. “It’s a fierce night now child,” she said. “I don’t know would there be any chance at all of Bridget being out on a night like this.” She was just picking up the bundle of rushes to scatter them over the flag floor of the kitchen when she suddenly caught sight of the tracks of muddy shoes.
“Who was there walking here with dirty shoes all over the clean kitchen floor?” she cried angrily.
“They belong to an old woman that came in to shelter from the rain.”
“And where is she now?”
“I’m here mistress. I was having a rest on the bed but I’ll not be troubling you any more now.”
“Lying on the bed indeed! It’s not for the like of yourself I was making that bed with the lovely white linen sheets and the best blankets in the house!”
“I’ve done no harm, you’ll see. Hand me the shoes child, and I’ll be away off in a minute. There now,” as she picked up her ragged garment from the chair, “just let me be getting this on and I’m ready.”
“But it’s dark and there’s heavy rain,” Paie cried. “Let me go a piece of the road with you or maybe you’ll lose your way.”
“No child, I know the roads well and no harm will come to me. Maybe you would just be giving me a piece of bread in case I wouldn’t be coming across another house for a good while.”
At once Paie picked up the soda bread from the table.
“Who was cutting that soda bread?” asked her mother.
“I asked the child for a piece when I came in.”
“The best soda bread indeed! That’s the loaf I had ready for Bridget. Here, you can have some of this,” and she handed her a piece of barley bread that was growing hard in the crock.
“Now be off with you, the way I can get all this mud cleared up and the house made respectable for a person to see.” And she pushed the old woman out of the house and shut the door behind her with a loud bang.
Suddenly with a gust of the rising wind, the door burst open again and when Paie went to shut it she found an old piece of rag lying on the floor.
“The old woman’s coat must have caught in the door,” she said showing it to her mother.
“I declare there’s no getting rid of her! Throw it on the fire!”
But Paie looked at it and turned it over and over in her hand.
“What did you say she would be dressed in mother? Bridget I mean.”
“I said she was always wearing a blue cloak. Bridget Blue Mantle the people were calling her.”
“Bridget Blue Mantle! Mother this is blue! See here in the folds where it hasn’t faded. I’ve never seen a blue like this before. Mother, that was Bridget! She was here and we never knew!”
“Never child! We could never have been so stupid.”
“Mother, I’m going to find her and bring her back,” and before her mother could stop her she had disappeared into the darkness.
Her mother began to prepare the room once more for Bridget but when Paie had been away for a few minutes she became anxious. “Paie! Paie! Where are you?” she called and peered out into the night.
“I’m here mother. Bridget is bringing me back.”
“It’s no night for a child to be out mistress. Take her in and keep her safe.”
“Will you…will you come in yourself now?” asked Nan.
“No mistress. I’ll be on my way. But wait now Paie. I’ll put good luck on you.”
“Peace of God be on this house.
On every window and every door.
On every hole and chink for moonlight.
Peace of God be on yourselves.”
When Paie and her mother looked up a moment later there was no-one there, but the darkness and the storm had gone away and the whole sky was bright with moonlight.
(source: A story from Kathleen Killip’s book ‘Saint Bridget’s Night: Stories from the Isle of Man; artwork is part of an illustration on the book cover by Krystyne Turska)