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Fethard Historical Society


SHEELA NA GIG

The Fethard Connection

    Up to the 9th January 1990, Fethard had four Sheela na gig in the locality, one at Watergate Street, one at the Augustinian Abbey, one at Kiltinan Church and the last at Kiltinan Castle. On that Tuesday, in January 1990, the best example of the local 'Sheelas' was stolen from Kiltinan Church and is still missing today. We have never given up hope that, some day, 'Sheela' will return home to her native Fethard. This page will show you the 'Wanted Poster' issued by Fethard Historical Society in 1990, and photographs of all the other 'Sheelas' that reside in Fethard.

Wanted Poster issued by Fethard Historical Society in January 1990



Watergate Sheela na gig

This Sheela is situated in the middle of a small section of the old fortified wall at Watergate Street, the southern approach to the town. Jørgen Anderson, a Danish archaeologist, called this figure "the witch on the wall" and his book, published in 1977, which has become a source book for everyone studying the subject, is also called "The Witch on the Wall".

At first view it may be difficult to make out the figure, she has short legs spread out with hands passing underneath her thighs to hold open for vulva. Instead of breasts she has deeply incised emaciated ribs. The left side of her face has a deep triangular pattern starting underneath her eye and radiating towards the wall. What looks like an ear, but indistinct due to weathering, imbalances the other side of the head.

Augustinian Abbey Sheela na gig

The Augustinian Abbey lies at the south-eastern end of the town. Walking through the graveyard and ruins of the earlier church the second Fethard Sheela appears low in a wall adjacent to the east end of the present church. Shaped like a farrier's nail or a curved wedge, the figure is obviously not original to this position in the wall. One can see that each edge has been worked to follow the lines of a graceful arch in its original setting, very likely the older Augustinian Church in ruins nearby. At the back of the figure can be felt architectural fluting running lengthwise which further confirms this.

This may be a good example of a "doctored" Sheela as the lower regions are suspiciously modest with no sex indicated and the right arm and hand are missing. She has dainty fingers on her left hand, poised in a delicate gesture over her abdomen. She has the same lean ribs and facial tattooing as the Watergate Sheela but less deeply cut. Large handle-like ears decorate each side of the swollen face. It has been seriously suggested that this figure is not a typical Sheela or indeed a Sheela at all!

Kiltinan Castle Sheela na gig

At the bottom of the cliff on which Kiltinan Castle is built, there is a small round tower by the river with a corbelled stone roof. It is connected to the castle by a stairway cut into the stone face of the cliff and protected by a massive stone-works. On the north wall of this building is the Sheela na gig. Much smaller and less explicit than her sister was in the churchyard she is nonetheless a fascinating figure.

Underneath her frowning brows she has well executed incised eyes and furrowing, or tattooing, carried across her forehead to the side of her head. She has a grim cast to her mouth and chin. All together her head is well sculpted. The torso is slim and narrow-hipped and horizontal lines indicate her lean ribs. Splayed legs tapering into the stone and a gently carved pudendum complete the lower part of the figure. The circular object in her left hand has been described both as a torque and a horseshoe. A horseshoe is more likely and one can see from the photograph what appears to be evenly spaced nail holes. A slender object is held in the right hand.

Kiltinan Church Sheela na gig

The theft of the Kiltinan Sheela na gig on the 9th January 1990, aroused an international interest Firstly, because the figure was regarded as unique and very valuable, and secondly because the carving depicted a shockingly crude, naked female with splayed legs and fingers holding open a gaping vulva. Two odd breasts, one with two nipples, a triangular Celtic head and a pipe-stem neck added even further intrigue to this mysterious figure.

The press had a field day. "Rude Nude Stolen" headlined one English tabloid. But almost all got one thing right, the name Sheela na gig. It is remarkable that a name which up until quite recently was a specialised archaeological term is now so well known not only throughout Ireland but international as well.

 

Excerpts taken from "Sheela na gig" by James O'Connor,
published by Fethard Historical Society 1991 ISBN 0-9518168-0-2



Ireland's Sheela na Gigs



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This site is maintained by Joe Kenny, Rocklow Road, Fethard, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.

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