Cloonlara Sheela-na-gig, Clare, Ireland

The Cloonlara Sheela-na-gig is set into the wall of a bridge that crosses the Limerick to Killaloe Navigation Canal, known as the Errina. The date 1769 appears in the top left corner of the image, possibly the construction date of the first hump-back bridge that traversed the canal. In 1964 the bridge on which it currently sits was construction and the Sheela-na-gig was positioned after the build. The origins of the Sheela-na-gig are uncertain, Thomas Westropp writing at the end of the 19th century suggested it could have come from either Coollisteige, Newtown or Aharinagh, three castles situated nearby. The image has been defaced, with evidence of hammering below the waist, according to Guest in 1934 it had been defaced by the landowner three generations prior. The positioning of the Sheela-na-gig on a bridge does allude to another folk believe this being that the Sheela-na-gig could protect travellers traversing the canal. Areas crossing water or dividing town lands were sometimes seen as liminal places where the gap between the seen and unseen world was ‘thin’. There was also a folk belief that the devil could not cross water, so perhaps the Sheela-na-gig was placed there as a protection from evil or harm. Though badly defaced this Sheela-na-gig is still worth visiting if passing through the rich historical area of Killaloe.

GPS: 52.72254, -8.55071

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