Sheelah’s Day Date in the current year: March 18, 2022

Sheelah’s Day On March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish celebrate Sheelah’s Day, also known as Sheelagh’s Day or St. Sheela’s Day. It is a folk holiday dedicated to the alleged wife or mother of the primary patron saint of Ireland. Although it is no longer officially celebrated in Ireland, it is still popular throughout the Irish diaspora in Canada and Australia.

Saint Patrick is arguably one of the most popular Catholic saints. He is best known for his mission in Ireland; although the Irish had begun to convert to Christianity before Patrick arrived in Ireland, he is widely regarded as the founder of Christianity in Ireland. Today, he is venerated as the foremost patron saint of Ireland. His feast day is celebrated on March 17; over the years, it has become associated with Irish culture and heritage in general.

But, as they say, behind every great man there’s a great woman. Although there’s no reliable information whatsoever about the women in Saint Patrick’s life (theoretically, he could have had a wife, as clergy were allowed to get married at the time), there’s a character named Sheelah in Irish folklore and mythology. She is thought to have been either the wife or mother of St. Patrick. The holiday commemorating her is observed on March 18.

Some scholars think that Sheelah’s Day may be connected to sheela na gigs, figurative carvings of naked women with exaggerated genitalia that can be found all over Western Europe on cathedrals, churches, castles, and other medieval buildings. Ireland and Britain have the greatest number of surviving sheela na gigs.

The carvings are believed to have been used to protect from evil spirits and demons, similarly to gargoyles and other grotesques. However, there are other theories that claim that sheela na gigs represent a pagan goddess or a fertility figure, or serve to warn against lust. Over time, the worship of sheela na gigs has transformed into Sheelah’s Day, and people began to associate Sheelah with St. Patrick to distance themselves from the pagan roots of the celebration.

Sheelah’s Day is mentioned in Irish journals and magazines published in the 18th and 19th centuries. In these publications, Sheelah is referenced as St. Patrick’s wife. Australian press from the 19th centuries mentions Sheelah’s Day celebrations that involve the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.

The holiday is no longer widely observed in Ireland, but it continues to be celebrated by the descendants of Irish immigrants in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Here, it is thought to be connected to the legend of Sheila NeGeira. She was an Irish princess who fell in love with and married Gilbert Pike, the first officer of the famous English privateer Perter Easton. The Pikes immigrated to Canada and settled in Carbonear. They are considered the ancestors of the locally prominent Pike family.

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Category

Folk Festivals

Country

Ireland, Australia, Canada

Tags

Sheelah’s Day, Sheelagh’s Day, St. Sheela’s Day, folk holiday, Irish holiday