The Saints of Ireland

The Saints of Ireland

Patrick is Ireland's best-known patron saint. Born in Britain, he was captured by pirates and was held captive in Ireland for six years. After he escaped, he later returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Eventually he became a Bishop in Armagh, Ireland, and is credited with converting many people to Christianity.  

Saint Brigid is the patroness of nuns, milkmaids, and fugitives. She is also known for her holiness and performing miracles. 

Saint Columba is the patron saint of Derry, and bookbinders, floods, and poets in Ireland and Scotland. He founded several monasteries and was an Irish abbot and missionary evangelist.  

Much legend and lore surrounds these three  saints both in Ireland and Scotland. In The Old  Hermit’s Almanac: Daily Meditations for the Journey of Life, author Father Edward Hays notes:  

The principles of Celtic evangelization, or conversion a la Saint Patrick, were: Take people as you find them, build on what you find already  present, change only what is absolutely necessary and graft the message of Jesus onto the sturdy stock of whatever people you encounter. Do not be scandalized if you scratch the skin of any Christian practice, holiday or ritual and find a pagan skeleton. Rather, reverence this relic of religious childhood with the conviction that its seeds were God-planted. 

As we celebrate the saints’ feast days with joy and laughter, let us remember to include food and fun and make the day special for all.  

Sister Mary Baird, PHJC, shares her much requested recipe for Challah – a tender Jewish egg bread with a sweet touch of honey – is just such a wholesome and delicious treat. When baked in a circle using the braided Challah recipe below, the configuration resembles a Celtic knot and would no doubt be approved by the three patron saints of Ireland: Saints Patrick,  Brigid and Columba. This bread is probably very similar to what the three saints enjoyed at mealtimes. 

Sister Mary Baird’s Challah 


  • 1 cup warm (110 degrees) water 
  • ½ cup honey 
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packages (1½ tablespoons) active dry yeast 
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
  • 1 large egg 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 and ½ to 4 cups bread flour 
  • ½ cup raisins, optional 
  • 1 large egg beaten for egg glaze 
  • Sesame seeds or poppy seeds, optional, for sprinkling. 


1. In a large bowl, stir the warm water and honey together. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and set aside to proof until foamy, about 5 minutes. 

2. Using a wooden spoon, beat the vegetable oil, egg, and salt into the yeast mixture. Gradually beat in the flour, ½ cup at a time, until you have a soft dough. 

3. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand. Knead the dough for several minutes until smooth and shiny, adding more flour if necessary. Knead in the optional raisins.  

4. Grease a baking sheet. Form the dough into a round or a braided loaf and place it on the baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. 

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the dough with the egg glaze and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  

6. For braided Challah, in Step 4, divide the dough into 3 pieces. With your hands, roll each portion into a 16-inch-long rope. Lay the ropes out side by side on a floured surface so that they are very close, but not touching. Braid the 3 ropes together snugly. Tuck the ends under to form an oblong loaf about 12 inches long. Place the dough on the greased baking sheet and  proceed as directed. 

Makes 1 loaf. Recipe adapted from Prairie Home Breads, 150 Splendid Recipes from America’s Breadbasket, by Judith M. Fertig.