March 18: Sheelah's Day Mar 17, 2018 19:28:30 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Mar 17, 2018 19:28:30 GMT -5
March 18: Sheelah’s Day
Sheelah’s Day falls on March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and was once recognized all over Ireland as part of the old Irish calendar. The old way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day was to eat and drink into the early hours of March 18. As on St. Patrick’s Day, Shamrocks would be worn during Sheelah’s Day and when the night ended, the Shamrocks would be drowned in the last glass of whiskey, which became known as the drowning of the Shamrock. Sheelah’s Day was so widely-celebrated in Ireland that emigrants of the late 1600s took the tradition with them. The day still plays a part in the history of Newfoundland and the term “Sheila’s Brush” is used to describe a huge snow storm that occurs around St. Patrick’s Day. In Australia, the name Shelia became popular and was first recorded in Australian English in 1832. Unfortunately, in Ireland, the traditions of Sheelah’s Day totally died out, leaving uncertainty as to the reason this day was actually celebrated.
Who was Sheelah? For years, scholars have been debating the identity of Sheelah and there are several theories. One is that Sheelah was the wife of St. Patrick. With the celibacy rules in the church today, this theory may seem unlikely, but in the early years of the Christian Church, the clergy consisted primarily of married men. During the 18th century, William Hone, an English writer, researched the traditions of Sheelah and found that most people described her as the wife of St Patrick. Unfortunately, there is no extant evidence to support this theory and there is no mention of Sheelah in St. Patrick’s Confessio, so it is relegated to the realm of Irish myth. Another theory is that Sheelah was St. Patrick’s mother, but this may have simply represented yet another theory, i.e., that she was actually a pagan goddess. It wasn’t unusual for the Catholic Church to merge pagan and Christian beliefs for the purpose of making it easier for the Irish to accept Christianity.
The Sheela-na-gig in Ireland. One connection to Sheelah is the Sheela-na-gig (Síle na Gigh) stone carvings of women displaying their vulva. These carvings, though explicit in nature, were commonly found on churches and castles constructed prior to the 16th century. Most of them were carved above doorways, indicating they played a vital role in protecting the building against evil. In addition to Ireland, Sheela-na-gigs have been discovered in various countries such as Spain, France and Great Britain. However, Ireland boasts the greatest number, particularly in locations influenced by the Norman invasion. The Sheela-na-gig pictured above decorates the wall of Dunnaman Castle (now in ruins) in County Limerick. There are many questions that remain unanswered about Sheelah, and even the Sheela-na-gigs, so the theories behind them are wide open to interpretation.
A well-preserved Sheela-na-gig. These enigmatic carvings are usually hunched, squatted or crouched down, obscenely stretching their labia with their hands. The Sheela-na-gig above, from Llandrindod Wells in Powys, Wales, is one of better-preserved because it was protected within the walls of the local parish church for much of its existence. Holy Trinity Church is of fairly recent vintage (late 19th century), but is still known as the “Old Church.” The first mention of a church at Llandrindod Wells is from 1291. Before the town developed a reputation as a fashionable spa, the small church was built atop a mound well away from the town center and it was this church that boasted the carving of the Sheela-na-gig. When questioned about the figure, an elderly lady told a researcher the stone had been discovered face-down in the place where the coal was kept to heat the church. Obviously, someone found the highly-suggestive carving offensive and threw it into the coal bin.
Though Sheela-na-gig is now a type-name to describe the figures, many had individual local names such as Evil Eye Stone, Hag of the Castle, Witch on the Wall, Julia the Giddy and St Gobnait.
Sources: Brian O’Neill, Your Irish Culture; Shae Clancy, New Perspectives in Irish Studies; The Sheela Na Gig Project; David Ross, “Llandrindod Wells, Holy Trinity Church,” Britain Express; and GaelicMatters.com.