I was shown my first Sheela-na-Gig way back when I first arrived in Ireland. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if it wasn’t pointed out to me. High above the entrance door on the ruins of the Kilnaboy Church in North Clare. It was difficult to make out and my guide was perhaps too embarrassed to explain it in detail. However this first exposure aroused my interest (ha, no pun intended).
Indeed my introduction to the Sheela was perhaps symbolic of the historical ambivalence and difficulty their existence has caused in Irish culture. Embarrassment at talking about them and trying to explain them and tolerance and acceptance of them in very public locations and seemingly incongruous places such as churches and castles.
So what are they? As in most of these things much is conjecture with theories of their origin falling into two camps. Firstly it is thought they came…
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