This Sheela-na-Gig is located on the south end of the east wall of the great Mac Gilla Padraig Castle at Cullahill Co. Laois. There are at least seven recorded Sheela’s from the county of which only three can be traced today. Sheela-na-Gigs are often found on old monastic buildings throughout the country as well as at some castle sites. In general the Sheela’s are carved in relief holding their genitalia, this theme is evident from the 100 or more Sheela-na-Gigs recorded from Ireland. They are quiet mysterious figures and even today scholars are divided on their meaning. There are a number of theories which speculate on their meaning. These include; fertility symbols, warding away of evil spirits, protection against evil, reminders of the sinfulness of lust or even as rudimentary pornographic images!! They may have been relics of Pagan times but were adopted and utilized during the Early Christian and Late Medieval Periods.

The Cullahill or Galesquarter Sheela-na-Gig we see here is probably the best preserved type in County Laois. It is Described by Freitag as a ‘powerfully built limestone figure carved in relief. Stern, manly looking face with big ears; broad shoulders; big, limp breasts; strong, billowy lines indicating ribs across upper torso; arms in front of body, hands joined with fingers either covering or entering vulva; no legs’ (Freitag 2004, 131) The carving is quiet striking and looks like a gargoyle one might expect to find on a cathedral. It is located approximately 13m high on the castle walls which makes it hard to spot. Why is such a striking image located in such an obscure position? It may be that when this castle was constructed in the 15th Century the Sheela was incorporated into its walls from an earlier site perhaps as a totem or a portent to any would be attackers on the Castle.

Post Author: Laois Archaeology

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