I had a wonderful adventure when tracking down the above figures. I took a day trip to Cashel on a bus from Dublin, and wanted to somehow get out to see the sheelas in the area. Since my cycling skills leave a lot to be desired, I decided forego the bike rental and try to find a taxi.
Now Cashel is a nice sized town, but is not exactly a bustling metropolis, teeming with cruising taxis. So I ventured into Feehan's pub, and asked the man behind the bar if he could direct me to the town's taxi rank. "You are standing at it", he replied with a grin. It turned out that in addition to being the proprietor of the pub, Mr. Feehan ran a taxi service, with a fleet of one car and one driver, himself (I later learned that he is also the town undertaker!). He knew about some of the sheelas in the area, and even had a plaster cast of the Cashel Museum sheela displayed in his pub. So I showed him where I wanted to go, and we hopped into his car and off we went.
Ballynahinch Castle Sheela, a mile or so W of Cashel town, on the bank of the River Suir.
Mr. Feehan knew approximately where the ruins of Ballynahinch Castle were, and took me up twisting and hilly roads (thank God I skipped the bike rental) to a farm gate. He got out and asked the farmworkers to unlock the gates, because he had a young Yank in the car that wanted to see the ruins of Ballynahinch Castle. We then took the strangest ride I have ever had in a taxi--over a rocky, boggy field! When we came to the ruins, Mr. Feehan gallantly tested the fence to see if it was indeed electric, as the sign said. His startled yelp gave us both the answer, and we had to scale a precarious side wall to gain access without being electrocuted. Once inside, we found the sheela above an almost ruined door. Even though she is pretty well worn, you can tell that she is a jolly figure, and it looks as if she is dancing or clicking her heels...
Mr. Feehan also told me that someone from Germany (?) had bought the castle ruins, in the hopes of restoring them. Apparently only after he paid a handsome some for the property, was he informed that he had no right of way into his property since it was completely surrounded by other people's farms. Worse, since it is an historical site, he would not be allowed to make any alterations to it! He apparently abandoned the property. Not sure if this is a true story, but it is mildly interesting...
Fethard Wall Sheela, across from the Medieval bridge over the Glashawley River
Then Mr. Feehan whisked me off to Fethard, where I saw the Fethard Wall and Abbey Sheelas. I got some better photos of the wall figure (it was lashing rain when I had photographed her before in 1994) and saw the Abbey figure for the first time.
The Fethard Wall figure is one of my favorite sheelas. She looks out over the river as if to protect the town. No wonder the locals love her so much! She has wild "hypnotized" eyes, prominent ribs, a ferocious grimace and strange tattoo-like markings on her face.
Fethard Abbey Sheela, in the ivy covered abbey wall above the graveyard
The Abbey Sheela is a little more demure, with large ears, a thin- lipped closed mouth and prominent ribs. It looks as if the lower half of the figure (as well as the right arm), like so many of the sheelas, has been tampered with and defaced.
On the journey back to Cashel, I told Mr. Feehan about several of the other sheelas that I had seen over the years in Ireland, and he told me more about the robbery of the Kiltinan figure. As our journey ended, I asked if he had enjoyed seeing the figures in the area. "Indeed I did." he said. But he dryly continued, "I sure wouldn't come all the way from America to see them!"
For lots more great info on the sheela-na-gigs in and around Fethard, see The Fethard Page.
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© copyright 2000 Tara McLoughlin