independent

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Kilmokea's mysterious naked woman in stone heritage exposed in map

David Looby

A mysterious Sheela-na-Gig headstone, found in Kilmokea, Great Island, features on a map outlining the location of the graphic naked monuments around Ireland.

Now in the National Museum, Dublin, but preserved as a headstone. the memorial tablet is an atypical, almost abstract sheela on reverse of the headstone with an inscription.

Heritage Council Chief Executive Michael Starrett said: 'With the inevitable Cistercians at the nearby Dunbrody Abbey, it's hardly surprising to find a sheela at this former Rectory.'

Mr Starrett said: 'HeritageMaps.ie a fantastic tool for learning, discussion and interpretation, making cultural data available to everyone.

'We can all learn from it and in many ways explode myths that have grown up and allow contemporary and very enlightened debate to occur. Our Sheela-na-Gig's deserve no less.'

UCC folklorist Shane Lehane said: 'Perhaps the key to understanding the inherited notion that St Patrick had a wife, Sheela, is to explore the hugely interesting archaeological manifestation that also bears her name: the Sheela-na-Gig'.

In Ireland, there are more than 110 examples of these, often misunderstood, medieval stone carvings of naked, old women exposing their genitalia.

'They are often positioned in medieval tower-houses, medieval church sites and holy wells. Up to recently these were seen as figures representing the evils of lust or as ways of averting the "evil eye".

'More convincing reassessments have reinterpreted the Sheela-na-gig, in line with the Cailleach, as belonging to the realm of vernacular folk deities associated with the life-giving powers of birth and death,' Mr Lehane said.

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