A Sheela-na-gig is a medieval stone figure of a naked woman displaying her exaggerated genitals. Always depicted as a single figure they can be found over doorways in churches and monastic sites but can also be found in castles, holy wells and bridges.
The Sheela-na-gig on Clonlara Bridge has been damaged below the waist and the legs and genitals are only barely traceable. This figure is believed to have come from Newtown Castle and was inserted into this bridge when it was built in the 19th century as part of the Limerick navigation scheme.
There is a lot of mystery surrounding Sheela-na-gigs. While they appear erotic in nature, they may have been pagan symbols of fertility or warnings against lust. They might also have been used as a protection against evil; a reason why they were placed over doorways.
The origin of the name Sheela-na-gig is also a mystery, it could have come from the phrase “Sighle na gCíoch” meaning “the old hag of the breasts”. Other scholars suggest it comes from an old English slang word “gig” meaning women’s genitalia.
1.The witch on the wall by Jorgen Anderson 1977
2.Etienne Rynne Thomond Archeology Society 1967 3.Sheela-Na-Gig: The Mysterious Medieval Carvings of Women Exhibitionists by Kaushik Patowary.