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County Cork
OS Map 86 & 89
OS Coordinate W 287 508
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Ancient Ireland Home

Ballinacarriga, Co. Cork

Location: From Dunmanway, take R 586 east (toward Ballineen) about six kilometers to R 637. Take R 637 approximately one kilometer south. Take the first side road to the left (it will be within a kilometer). Stay to the right. Within about a half kilometer, not far past the church, the castle will be on the right. There is a carpark about 50 meters past the castle on the opposite side of the road. Climb the steps to the front of the castle. The sheela is between the 2nd and 3rd windows on the right as you face the entrance to the castle.

Dimensions: Approximately 45 cm x 32 cm

Features: Standing figure with splayed legs, slightly bent knees and feet turned outwards. The upper part of the body is disproportionately large accentuating the waist. Atop a sturdy neck is a prominent head with large droopy ears that sit to either side of the head resembling hair. The eyes appear to be closed and accentuated by possible scarring around her right eye (left, to the observer). Her long, slightly bent arms reach down to grasp her vulva from behind her splayed thighs. Her right hand passes behind her right leg and grips one side of the vulva and the left hand passes in front of the left leg to grip the other side. There is evidence of breasts and no ribs are noted. She has a straight emotionless mouth.

Comments: The sheela is embedded in the stonework of Ballinacarriga castle. Because it is so high up and blends so well with the rough stonework, she can be easy to miss. We only noticed her accidentally in some of the early photographs we took when visiting for the first time. Now that we have better cameras, we need to return to photograph her properly.

History: The castle is a four story tower, built on a rocky eminence with a good view in all directions, and overlooks Ballinacarriga lough (lake). It is unique for the number of important stone carvings it contains, mainly on what was the third floor, which is accessible by a mural stairway built into the thickness of the wall. These carvings are mostly of a religious nature. In one window arch, on the top floor, the Crucifixion is shown; Christ on the cross between two thieves and the instruments of the passion nearby (a crown of thorns, a hammer, and a heart pierced with two swords). In the soffit on the north window are the initials R.M. C.C. and the date 1585. These are believed to be the initials of Randal Murlihy (Hurley) and his wife Catherine Cullinane, and the date of the erection of the building. It is generally accepted, however, that the greater part of the castle is older and may have been in the possession of the MacCarthys before the Hurleys took over. Formerly, the Hurleys occupied lands about a mile to the south, in the townland of Gloun, where some scant remains of buildings are to be seen. On the opposite window are intricate carvings around a checkered design, and also the figure of a woman with five roses, which has been stated to represent Catherine Cullinane and her five children, but is just as likely to represent the Blessed Virgin. These carvings would tend to support a local tradition that the top floor was used as a chapel as well as being the main living quarters of the castle. It is believed that Mass was still being said here until the nearby chapel was built in 1815 by Father James Doheny, although the castle itself would long have been uninhabited by then. The presence of the Sheela na gig on the castle wall would appear to substantiate this, as these unusual female figure are often (for unknown reasons) found on the outside walls of medieval churches as well as castles.

Other Items of Interest: Outside to the southeast is the remnant of one of the four defense towers, which guarded the main tower of the castle itself. The other three have disappeared.

  © 2002-2006 F.J. & K.D. Schorr - All rights reserved.