It’s been one week since we arrived in Ireland. I have discovered a few things. One is that flying is not as much fun as it used to be, sadly. But taking photos is fun.
Dublin was super crowded which I didn’t enjoy and my favourite writer’s museum has closed down for good (which is sad). However, I saw one of the most gorgeous statues in Dublin. It’s the one of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square – I don’t know who placed a lovely pregnant woman statue next to him, but here it is and it’s quite delicious really.
The research basement
The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin graciously allowed me to enter the research basement (a maze that I would never have re-surfaced from without supervision and guidance) to see the Sheela na Gigs that are not on display in the museum.
There is maybe 10 of them, all have been “rescued” from their original sites in order to save them from the rigours of time (and weather and humans acting badly). I was allowed to see them on condition that my purpose was research only and that any photos that I took (a lot of them) were not to be published in any way (which is sad because I know many of you reading this would be keen to see them. I will find a way to conduct a research debrief at some point!
We have often journeyed around Ireland with the specific purpose of finding Sheela na Gigs in their original places. There is a great map made by Jack Roberts and also a website that is useful.
The stone of destiny
I visited the Sheela on the Hill of Tara – she is so worn now that she is barely discernible, but I said hello anyway. And then to visit the Lia Fáil on the Hill of Tara – the stone of destiny – although I don’t really think anyone knows it’s purpose. As far as I can tell this rather phallic looking stone was originally at the doorway of the Mound of Hostages on the Hill and has been relocated with stories about it being related to the inauguration of the kings of Ireland. I have visited it in the freezing cold of winter when at one time someone had poured red paint all over it. This time we arrived on a very windy and cold spring day to find someone lighting incense in the depression on the top. When I first visited the Hill 25 years ago it was a little known place with very few people. Now it’s a major tourist attraction with buses coming along all day.
Remarkably, standing next to the stone in what felt like a howling gale, (which fortunately blew the last of the incense from the top), a crow flapped out from the trees a few hundred metres away (seriously hard work in that wind) – he or she flew to me, did a semi circle around me and the stone and flapped back (into the wind- very seriously hard work) to the trees. A strange event by all accounts. The Lia Fáil is also associated with the Mórrigan. Some say it is a portal of hers – who knows?
On the way to Sliabh na Cailli
On the way to Sliabh na Cailli (Loughcrew) we happened upon a Sheela na Gig that we had not seen before- well we stopped to look at a wood carving by the side of the road and she was mentioned in the local attractions board. (If you believe that happening upon such a thing is accidental, then you probably also think that the crow in the Lia Fáil story above was just going about crow business. I tend to err on the side of everything happening for a reason).
This wonderful Hag woman is above a church window at Taghmon, County Westmeath. She is quite wild and fierce looking, don’t you think?
Here is a little info from Jack Robert’s book “Ireland of the Sheela-na-Gigs”
“Sheela-na-gigs are carvings of naked females posing in a manner that is usually described as “exhibiting” themselves and are often called obscene images, so it is rather surprising that they are found on churches and other religious structures. Even more surprising is the fact that they are not hidden or put somewhere they could be missed but are usually placed in the most prominent and visible positions where everyone could see them such as above the main doorway or over a prominent window.”
They were mostly carved between the 13th and 16th centuries- the middle ages- and are mostly on Christian churches or buildings. No one really knows what their meaning is. I will have much more to say about Sheela as I continue on my journey here.
Now we are in County Donegal
The most peculiar thing about Donegal appears to be that knitting needles are hard to come by. I know that is obscure, but I was so excited to purchase some balls of Donegal tweed, but can I find needles fit for the purpose? No!
Donegal is truly wild- we are in a little cottage on the Atlantic coast- more to come on that. We visited Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) and Beltany stone circle (images below).