Approaching Esker castle from the south its quite obvious what a brilliant strategic defensive position it holds, the steep climb through some dense undergrowth to reach the tower itself only adds to the powerful and disorientating nature of this site. It is difficult to ascertain when the castle at Esker was built, but it is known that it was occupied until 1775. One of the unique features that leads to this castles infamy is the inclusion of a ‘Sheela-na-Gig’ halfway up the tower’s eastern wall. To those who haven’t hard of a ‘Sheela na Gig’, they are essentially figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. The origins of the Sheela-na-Gigs, found in a heavier density in Ireland than anywhere else, is still debated to this day. To some they are related to early Anglo-Norman areas and were designed to represent female lust as hideous, others believe they were used to ward off evil. Another school of thought is that they come from a pre-Christian fertility or mother-goddess religion and may have been taken from earlier ruins and built into these newer structures. The horizontal placement of the Sheela at Esker is something I have not seen before and it is a truly wonderful carving.
As stated earlier the origins of Esker Castle are uncertain, it is known that in 1556 Rory O’Mooney was proprietor of Esker Castle and its lands. The castle appears to have stayed in the ownership of the O’Mooneys and other families related to them by marriage during its lifetime. There is some debate around a massacre that may or may not have happened at Esker. One story states that it was meant to have been carried out by the Mooneys, who committed as massacre after inviting some neighbouring families under the pretence of a feast, however this story has been discounted by the family. The Mooney’s side to the massacre story states that the castle was once attacked by the more powerful MacCoghlans, to whom they paid tribute to in cows milk at certain times of the year. The MacCoghlans advanced from the flatter earth to the north of the castle, during the attach the Mooney’s steward captain was injured, he demanded the family close the gates and protect the castle, this act of loyalty saved the O’Mooney’s at Esker.
GPS: 53.33545, -7.82193