Monday, 9 April 2007

Clogheen again and the start of the Sheelahunt!

Back in Co Tipperary again on our way to Dublin. Along with the map of antiquities on Beara we bought a booklet by Jack Roberts and Joanne McMahon entitled ‘The Sheela-na-gigs of Britain and Ireland – An Illustrated Map/Guide’. I have known of these strange carvings for some time years and found them fascinating. The Sheela-na-gig is a carving of a female image depicted as naked and posing in a manner that accentuates and draws attention to the vulva. They were erected on many churches of the medieval period and were almost always placed in a prominent position such as over a doorway or a window. They seem to be carved in a symbolic form rather than representational; many from far-flung places possess similar features – the staring eyes, big ears, prominent ribs – and all are featured drawing attention to and displaying the vulva. The vulva has been revered for centuries as the central and most powerful symbol for virtually all older cultures since remote antiquity. Unlike the ‘fertility’ or Mother Goddess image where the breasts and belly are overtly emphasised, direct reference to the genitals usually symbolises death, life and regeneration. I found these excellent websites that discussed and provided possible explanations for the Sheelas. and

We decided to go on a Sheela hunt in the area starting with The Rock of Cashel.

This medieval castle and cathedral is a prominent landmark in Cashel and many intricate carvings can still be seen.

I had to ask a member of staff to show me the Sheela as I could not locate it. He had come to ask me to leave as the winds were increasing in this high and exposed site where there was a danger of falling masonry as there were parts of the building being renovated.

This Sheela was in an ‘occulted’ position; hidden, and placed sideways on the building in order to conceal it.

I took this picture of the sunlight through clouds out of the ‘van’s window as we were driving along. I used it as the background for a birthday card for my brother Steve.

We then found this Sheela on the wall of the old church at Shanrahan near to Clogheen. And also this disembodied head, which might have belonged to another Sheela.

This one was behind a tombstone and the picture was taken towards the end of the day so the light wasn’t very good.

We didn’t find the other much better one one, but here is a picture of it from the website mentioned above.

We looked for the Ballynahinch and Thurles Sheelas but the map/guide is very vague and without very detailed OS maps we hadn’t much chance and didn’t find them. Here are pictures of what we would have found!!

We did however find the Sheela carved on the old abbey at Holycross. Unfortunately this one had been defaced ( defigured!) a lady in the abbey shop thought that this occurred when the abbey was undergoing restoration in the 1970s. Many of the Sheelas were defaced or removed, hidden and buried, or totally destroyed.

The practice of carving Sheelas began sometime in the early Christian era and for various reasons spread rapidly during the medieval period; the 11th – 15th centuries. This ended abruptly at the beginning of the 17th century, corresponding with the reformation or heavily puritanical take-over of the religious system. The Sheela-na-gigs began to disappear , removed and hidden away or cast down along with other so-called heretical images.

The Sheela at Kiltanane Church, Co. Tipperary was stolen in 1990.
Here is a link to an interesting site that provides a downloadable game featuring an advert for the return of the missing Sheela. Tiger Tom’s Tipperary Showdown.

This game is a ‘shoot-em-up’ where you shoot ghosties and ghoulies in the various towns and places of interest in Tipperary.

We had an excellent Indian Takeaway from a little place in Clogheen, the garlic naan was handmade with loads of sliced fresh garlic in it. The next day off to Dublin.

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