Kilsarkan Sheela-na-gig, Kilsarkan, Co. Kerry, 6.5 miles East of Farranfore (visited May 1994)

This is one of my very favorite sheelas, probably because of its remote, idyllic setting, and because of the "Sheela shrine" I found there. This sheela sits on the top of one of the windows of a ruined church, and the whole window is the opening to her womb. There is a graveyard attached to the church, and there are several shrines to the Virgin Mary both inside the ruined church and in the graveyard. These shrines are strewn with petitions, flowers, offerings and money. Curiously enough, there is a similar shrine around the sheela figure, and heavy rubbing marks on and around the figure's pudenda. I find it fascinating that people living in a country so steeped in Catholicism would hold this pagan figure in equal reverence to the Blessed Virgin. I wanted to talk with locals about this, but that will have to wait until the next visit...

Among sheela enthusiasts there is a debate as to whether the figures should be kept in situ in their "natural habitat" for all to enjoy, or whether they should be taken and preserved in museums, away from the elements and possible vandalism and theft. This sheela is a prime example of this debate. She is magnificent in situ, and is obviously revered by local people as a spiritual object. However, as the second photo shows, she is very much in peril of being stolen or defaced. It would take very little to lift the figure out of the window, and the remote setting of the ruins would facilitate an easy getaway. (For an example of a sheela that has been stolen, see The Kiltinan Sheela)

I am delighted to note that my photo of this image was used by Rufus Camphausen for his new book, "The Encyclopedia of Sacred Sexuality". This comprehensive volume gives an exhaustive comparative study on religions, artifacts, practices, and concepts having to do with sacred sexuality around the world. For more information, visit Rufus' website

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copyright 2000 Tara McLoughlin