Thursday 24 February 2011: Sheela na gig
Delivered son number 1 to a very foggy Cork airport. We'd had a really nice few days, eating , chatting, watching movies and so much walking - today the old bones are protesting! He, however, is planning to leap off the plane and head straight off to the climbing wall at Warwick uni!
Abysmal weather but I decided to stop off at Ballynacarriga castle on the way home and the fog lifted a little. Years ago, the very first time we came to Ireland in fact, I dragged the family to this place and we had the most magical time. Then, it was surrounded by verdant undergrowth and we collected the key, a suitably huge one, at the local post office and let ourselves in! We were kings of the castle. We clambered up the old staircase and admired the amazing carvings in the very top room. Today its been tidied up and is locked and the post office is abandoned. However, it still has a special atmosphere and it has a sheela na gig!
A sheela is something very strange indeed! It is a quite crude and rather grotesque carving of a woman. She is usually bald, often with pendulous breasts and sits with her legs wide apart, usually sporting a very impressive vagina!! Sheelas look fantastically pagan but probably date from the Medieval period and, very bizarrely, are usually found in churches or castles. Were they meant to be severe warnings against the sins of the flesh? Maybe, but they still tend to be regarded as benign and as good luck and in some places ares still revered. I reckon it is the usual Christian thing whereby they've kidnapped an ancient symbol, the goddess as hag, and made it their own. In Victorian times many sheelas were defaced or locked up in darkened rooms - far too rude for delicate sensibilities. Now they're treated with a bit more respect. This one is high up on the wall over the entrance to the castle. She's quite gentle as they go!
Admire her and enjoy this from PJ Harvey