Monday 29 May 2017

St Patrick had a wife - and Irish used to also honour 'Sheelah's Day'

Saint Patrick and his followers, played by actors, lead the annual Saint Patrick's Day parade in Downpatrick (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Saint Patrick and his followers, played by actors, lead the annual Saint Patrick's Day parade in Downpatrick (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Like all good men, St Patrick couldn't have banished the snakes from Ireland without the help of a great woman - his wife, Sheelah.

A folklorist has now claimed there are widespread indications in historic records that St Patrick was married.

There was an ancient belief that Ireland's Welsh-born national saint was married, and March 18 was referred to as "Sheelah's Day".

St Patrick preached in Ireland in the fifth century - an era where the majority of clerics across Europe were married.

"Pre-Famine, if you go back to the newspapers in Ireland they talk not just about Patrick's Day but also Sheelah's Day," University College Cork (UCC) folklorist Shane Lehane said.

"So I wondered where this came from. You have Paddy's Day on March 17 and it continues on to Sheelah's Day. I came across numerous references that Sheelah was thought to be Patrick's wife."

John Carr's 1806 book, 'The Stranger in Ireland', also refers to Sheelah as St Patrick's wife.

The UCC folklorist argued that Sheelah has raised intriguing issues from a feminist point of view - particularly how she was airbrushed from modern depictions of St Patrick.

"What I think is very interesting is that people in Ireland in the past had no problem whatsoever accepting that Patrick had a wife. The Church was very strong and during the period of Lent from Ash Wednesday right through to Easter Sunday you had major prohibitions," Mr Lehane said.

Sheelah has also been referenced in 'The Freeman's Journal' in 1785, 1811 and 1841.

The UCC academic said it was time for Ireland to re-embrace the story of Sheelah and her importance to St Patrick's story.

Irish Independent

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