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  • From Ancient Iconography to Modern Day Controversies: The Evolution of Sheela Na Gig‍

    For centuries, the image of the Sheela Na Gig has intrigued and fascinated people around the world. This ancient iconography, depicting a naked woman squatting and exposing her genitals, can be found throughout Europe, particularly in Ireland and England. Though the origin and meaning of the Sheela Na Gig remain shrouded in mystery, the image has sparked countless debates and controversies over the years. Some view it as a symbol of fertility and abundance, while others see it as a depiction of sin and shame. In modern times, the Sheela Na Gig has become a subject of interest for scholars, artists, and feminists alike. Join us as we explore the rich history and evolution of this enigmatic figure, from its ancient roots to the present day controversies that continue to surround it. Historical origins of Sheela Na Gig The origins of the Sheela Na Gig remain a mystery, but the earliest known examples can be found in medieval Irish churches, castles, and other buildings. The name "Sheela Na Gig" is thought to come from the Irish language, with "Sheela" possibly being a derivative of the word "síle," meaning "hag" or "old woman," and "Na Gig" possibly meaning "of the vagina." The earliest known examples of Sheela Na Gig date back to the 12th century, but it is believed that the iconography existed long before then. Some historians speculate that the Sheela Na Gig may be a remnant of pre-Christian goddess worship, as similar images have been found throughout Europe and the Middle East, often associated with fertility and childbirth. Others believe that the Sheela Na Gig may have been a warning against lust and sin, as the exposed genitalia could be interpreted as a symbol of female temptation. The study of the Sheela-na-gig is a multi-disciplinary field that encompasses a wide range of scholars and experts from various academic disciplines, including archaeology, art history, folklore, anthropology, and religious studies. Some notable scholars who have studied the Sheela-na-gig include Jack Roberts, an Irish archaeologist who wrote the book "The Sheela-na-gigs of Ireland and Britain: The Divine Hag of the Christian Celts"; Barbara Freitag, a German scholar who has published several articles and books on the Sheela-na-gig; and Joanne McMahon, an American scholar who has written extensively on the subject of gender and sexuality in medieval Ireland. Other prominent scholars who have contributed to the study of the Sheela-na-gig include Patricia Cox Miller, a religious studies scholar who has explored the religious and cultural significance of the Sheela-na-gig; Elizabeth Shee Twohig, an Irish archaeologist who has conducted extensive research on the Sheela-na-gigs found in Ireland; and Ruth Illingworth, a British art historian who has analyzed the Sheela-na-gigs from an art historical perspective. Despite the mystery surrounding the origins and meaning of the Sheela Na Gig, the image has continued to fascinate and inspire artists, scholars, and feminists for centuries. Interpretations of Sheela Na Gig in ancient times The interpretation of the Sheela Na Gig in ancient times is a subject of debate among scholars. Some believe that the image was used as a talisman to promote fertility and safe childbirth. Others argue that the Sheela Na Gig was a representation of the ancient Irish goddess Brigid, who was associated with fertility and abundance. Another theory is that the Sheela Na Gig was a warning against sinful behavior, as the exposed genitals could be interpreted as a symbol of female temptation. This interpretation is supported by the fact that many early examples of the Sheela Na Gig can be found in churches and other religious buildings. Regardless of its original purpose, the Sheela Na Gig has continued to captivate the imagination of artists and scholars throughout the centuries. Sheela Na Gig in Christian iconography During the Christianization of Ireland in the 5th century, many pagan symbols and practices were incorporated into Christian iconography. The Sheela Na Gig is no exception. Many examples of the Sheela Na Gig can be found in Christian churches and other religious buildings, often located near entrances or doorways. Some scholars believe that the Sheela Na Gig was used as a talisman to protect against evil spirits, while others argue that it was a warning against sin and temptation. Despite its incorporation into Christian iconography, the Sheela Na Gig remains a controversial symbol to this day. The controversy surrounding Sheela Na Gig in modern times In modern times, the Sheela Na Gig has become a subject of controversy and debate. Some view it as a symbol of female empowerment and liberation, while others see it as a depiction of shame and degradation. Feminist scholars have argued that the Sheela Na Gig represents a pre-Christian goddess of fertility and abundance, and that the image was co-opted by the Christian church as a means of suppressing women's sexuality. Others argue that the Sheela Na Gig is a symbol of female empowerment, as it represents a woman who is unashamed of her body and sexuality. The controversy surrounding the Sheela Na Gig continues to this day, with some calling for its removal from churches and other religious buildings. Feminist interpretations of Sheela Na Gig In recent years, the Sheela Na Gig has been embraced by feminist scholars and artists as a symbol of female empowerment and liberation. Many argue that the Sheela Na Gig represents a pre-Christian goddess of fertility and abundance, and that the image was co-opted by the Christian church as a means of suppressing women's sexuality. Feminist interpretations of the Sheela Na Gig emphasize the importance of embracing female sexuality and rejecting patriarchal norms that seek to shame and control women's bodies. The Sheela Na Gig has become a symbol of resistance against misogyny and sexism, and continues to inspire feminist artists and scholars around the world. The role of Sheela Na Gig in modern-day art and literature The Sheela Na Gig has inspired artists and writers for centuries, and continues to be a subject of interest in modern times. Many contemporary artists have created works that incorporate the Sheela Na Gig, either as a direct representation or as a symbol of female empowerment and liberation. In literature, the Sheela Na Gig has been used as a symbol of female sexuality and empowerment in works by feminist writers such as Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. The Sheela Na Gig has also been the subject of academic research, with scholars exploring the origins and meanings of the iconography, as well as its significance in contemporary feminist discourse. Preservation efforts for Sheela Na Gig As the controversy surrounding the Sheela Na Gig continues, efforts have been made to preserve and protect examples of the iconography. In Ireland, the Sheela Na Gig Project was established in 1997 to document and protect the remaining examples of the iconography. In England, the Friends of Friendless Churches organization has been working to restore and preserve examples of the Sheela Na Gig found in medieval churches. Efforts to preserve and protect the Sheela Na Gig reflect the ongoing interest and fascination with this enigmatic figure. Sheela Na Gig in popular culture The Sheela Na Gig has also made its way into popular culture, appearing in music, film, and television. In the 1990s, the band PJ Harvey released a song titled "Sheela Na Gig," which referenced the iconography and its significance in feminist discourse. In the horror film "The Witch" (2015), the Sheela Na Gig appears as a haunting symbol of female power and sexuality. The Sheela Na Gig has also appeared in the popular television series "Game of Thrones," further cementing its place in popular culture. The Sheela Na Gig remains a mysterious and enigmatic symbol, with its origins and meaning shrouded in mystery. Despite the controversy and debate surrounding the iconography, it continues to inspire and captivate artists, scholars, and feminists alike. From its ancient origins to its role in contemporary feminist discourse, the Sheela Na Gig has evolved and transformed over the centuries, becoming a symbol of female empowerment and liberation. As we continue to explore the rich history and evolution of this enigmatic figure, we are reminded of the importance of embracing female sexuality and rejecting patriarchal norms that seek to shame and control women's bodies. The Sheela Na Gig serves as a powerful symbol of resistance against misogyny and sexism, and will continue to inspire and captivate us for generations to come.

  • Billy the Kid Spoke Gaelic!

    "Billy the Kid" is a name that conjures up images of a daring outlaw and gunslinger of the Wild West. But few people know that Billy the Kid was actually born to an Irish immigrant family and that he was fluent in the Irish language. In this blog, we'll explore the life and legacy of the infamous Billy the Kid, a true Irish-American criminal legend. Introduction to Billy the Kid No matter how you look at it, Billy the Kid is one of the most famous figures of the Wild West. He was a gunfighter, an outlaw, and a criminal who was involved in numerous acts of violence. He was also one of the most notorious figures of the Old West, and his story is the stuff of legend. But what many people don't know is that Billy the Kid was actually born Henry McCarty, a name that hints at his Irish heritage. His father was an Irish immigrant who came to the United States in the late 1840s. So how did Henry McCarty become Billy the Kid? Let's find out. Early Life of Henry McCarty - aka Billy the Kid Henry McCarty was born in New York City in 1859 to Irish immigrants Patrick and Catherine McCarty. Patrick worked as a laborer and Catherine worked as a domestic servant. But their marriage was short-lived, and they separated in 1863 when Henry was just four years old. His mother moved the family to Indianapolis, Indiana, where they struggled to make ends meet. They eventually moved to Wichita, Kansas, where Henry and his brother worked as cowboys on a ranch. From there, they moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it was there that Henry adopted the name "Billy the Kid". The Irish Gangs of New York Before moving to the West, Henry had spent some time in New York City. And it was here that he was exposed to the world of the Irish gangs. These gangs were largely made up of Irish immigrants who had come to the United States in search of a better life. But they were also involved in organized crime, running illegal gambling dens and engaging in gang warfare. It's possible that Henry was exposed to this world of crime and violence and that it had an influence on him. Whatever the case may be, it's clear that the Irish gangs of New York had an impact on Henry's life. Billy's Westward Journey - Joining the Regulators In 1877, Henry, now known as Billy the Kid, moved to New Mexico with his mother and brother. Here, he joined a group of outlaws known as the Lincoln County Regulators. The Regulators were a group of lawless men who were involved in a range of criminal activities, including rustling cattle and robbing stagecoaches. While with the Regulators, Billy the Kid was involved in a number of violent incidents, including the shooting of a blacksmith and the murder of a sheriff. He also became known as a formidable gunfighter, and his reputation began to spread throughout the West. Billy's Gangs and Their Feuds Billy the Kid was also involved in a number of gang feuds during his time in the West. He was a member of two gangs: the Cowboys and the Regulators. The Cowboys were a band of outlaws who were known for their violent acts, while the Regulators were a group of lawless men who were involved in a range of criminal activities. The two gangs were in a constant state of conflict and it was during this time that Billy the Kid became known for his violent and fearless nature. He was involved in a number of shootouts and duels, and his reputation as a ruthless outlaw began to grow. Billy's Fluency in the Irish Language What many people don't know is that Billy the Kid was actually fluent in the Irish language. He was born to Irish immigrants and was exposed to the language from an early age. He even wrote some of his letters in Gaelic and was adept at speaking the language. It's likely that his fluency in the Irish language helped him to blend in with the Irish gangs of New York and to gain their trust. It also allowed him to communicate effectively with the Regulators and to gain their respect. This fluency in the Irish language was an important part of Billy the Kid's story. William H. Bonney: The Legend of Billy the Kid As Billy the Kid's notoriety grew, so did his legend. He gained a reputation as a daring outlaw who was always one step ahead of the law. He was known for his fast draw and his willingness to use violence when necessary. It was during this time that he adopted the name "William H. Bonney" and became known as "Billy the Kid". He was now an outlaw with a nickname and a reputation to uphold. He was now a living legend. Pat Garrett and the Capture of Billy the Kid In 1880, a lawman by the name of Pat Garrett was hired to capture Billy the Kid. Garrett was a former Regulator himself and was determined to bring Billy to justice. He tracked down the outlaw and eventually captured him in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Billy was put on trial and sentenced to death. But he managed to escape from prison and went on the run once again. He was eventually tracked down and shot by Garrett in 1881. The Trial and Execution of Billy the Kid After being recaptured, Billy the Kid was put on trial for his various crimes. He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. On April 28, 1881, he was hanged in Lincoln County, New Mexico. His execution was a major event and it marked the end of an era. Billy the Kid was now a legend and his fame would only grow in the years to come. The Legacy of Billy the Kid in Irish-American Culture Billy the Kid's legacy lives on in Irish-American culture. He is remembered as a daring outlaw who was willing to risk it all for freedom. He is also remembered as a symbol of the Irish immigrant experience in the United States. Many Irish-Americans look to Billy the Kid as a symbol of courage and defiance in the face of adversity. He is a reminder that the Irish have been a part of the American story since the beginning and that they have made an indelible mark on the country's history. Conclusion Billy the Kid is an iconic figure in American folklore and an important part of Irish-American history. He was a daring outlaw and a formidable gunfighter who lived a life of violence and adventure. But he was also a symbol of the Irish immigrant experience in the United States and a reminder of the struggles and triumphs of the Irish. His legacy lives on in Irish-American culture and will continue to inspire future generations. So, if you ever find yourself in the Wild West, remember the story of Billy the Kid, an Irish-American tale of legend and lore.

  • Daniel O'Connell Liberator of Irish Catholic & Enslaved Black Americans

    Daniel O’Connell is remembered as the Liberator of Irish Catholics, but he also played a significant role in the movement to end slavery. On 23 May 2011, President Obama made an historic visit to the Republic of Ireland. While in Dublin, he addressed the people in College Green. In his opening comments, Obama joked about having returned to his ancestral home “to find the [O’] apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.” The bulk of his speech paid tribute to the long-established relationship between the United States and Ireland, with the President acknowledging America’s debt to Irish immigrants. However, he paid particular tribute to one Irishman who had never set foot on American soil, Daniel O’Connell, saying: "When we strove to blot out the stain of slavery and advance the rights of man, we found common cause with your struggles against oppression." Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and our great abolitionist, forged an unlikely friendship right here in Dublin with your great liberator, Daniel O’Connell. His time here, Frederick Douglass said, defined him not as a color but as a man. And it strengthened the non-violent campaign he would return home to wage. The President’s comments were intriguing. While Frederick Douglass remains an icon to students of slavery, O’Connell’s role in this movement has largely been forgotten. What brought Frederick Douglass, a fugitive American slave, to Ireland? And why was Daniel O’Connell revered in the United States as a champion of anti-slavery? At the end of 1845, Frederick Douglass traveled to Ireland. He regarded his visit as transformative – for the first time he felt able to view himself as a man, rather than as the property of another man. The highlight of his time spent in Ireland was meeting Daniel O’Connell, the Irish ‘Liberator.’ Today, O’Connell is largely remembered for winning Catholic Emancipation (the right of Catholics to sit in parliament) and for agitating to achieve independence for Ireland. But for Douglass, and thousands of other abolitionists throughout the world, O’Connell was known for his outspoken statements condemning slavery. By 1845, the Irishman was the most influential and outspoken critic of slavery in the world. It was natural that Douglass should want to hear O’Connell speak. In September 1845, Douglass attended a Repeal meeting in Dublin. He was mesmerized by O’Connell’s lecture, describing it as “powerful in its logic, majestic in its rhetoric, biting in its sarcasm, 
melting in its pathos, and burning in its rebukes.” Douglass believed that O’Connell was at his best when he spoke out against slavery, saying “I have heard many speakers within the last four years – speakers of the first order; but I confess, I have never heard one by whom I was more completely captivated than by Mr. O’Connell.” When speaking in Cork a few weeks later, Douglass again praised O’Connell, telling his audience: “I feel grateful to him, for his voice has made American slavery shake to its center. I am determined wherever I go, and whatever position I may fill, to speak with grateful emotions of Mr. O’Connell’s labors.” Douglass left Ireland at the beginning of 1846, just as the impact of the potato blight was starting to take effect in the country. His eloquence when lecturing on slavery had earned him the sobriquet ‘The Black O’Connell,’ forever linking him to the Irishman he so admired. Frederick Douglass, 27 years old, a self-educated escaped slave, and 70-year-old Daniel O’Connell, Liberator of Irish Catholics and scourge of British politicians, were unlikely bed-fellows. Together, however, their repeated and passionate attacks on the institution of slavery transformed the struggle for abolition into a transatlantic crusade for social justice. O’Connell’s involvement in anti-slavery had started in 1824. In the 1820s, the movement to end slavery in the British Empire was being revived in Britain. James Cropper, an evangelical abolitionist from Liverpool, visited Ireland and sought a meeting with O’Connell. O’Connell, then a successful lawyer, had just helped to found the Catholic Association – the most successful grass-roots organization in the early nineteenth century. Despite the many claims on his time, O’Connell immediately embraced the cause of anti-slavery. Only a few months after meeting Cropper, O’Connell was asked to speak at a meeting of abolitionists in England. His arrival coincided with the retirement, on health grounds, of William Wilberforce, the genteel, evangelical founding father of British anti-slavery. O’Connell, Catholic, controversial and rumbumptious, represented a new generation of agitators, who were willing to use popular agitation and uncompromising invective to bring an end to slavery. From the outset, O’Connell put his own humanitarian stamp on the anti-slavery debate. Unlike some who agitated for gradual emancipation, O’Connell demanded that it be immediate. He repeatedly described black slaves as being the equals of free white men – then an unpopular view even amongst abolitionists. Moreover, unlike the British abolitionists, he did not confine his attention to slavery in the British Empire. He also condemned slavery in the United States – which he constantly referred to as ‘a blot on their democracy.’ Finally, O’Connell brought a Catholic dimension to a movement that had, up to that time, been overwhelmingly associated with Protestant evangelicals. Unlike the evangelicals, he did not regard slaves as heathens who would benefit from being converted to Christianity, but as men and women who could not reach their potential until they were free. Overall, O’Connell brought a more inclusive and humanitarian dimension to anti-slavery agitation. After 1829, O’Connell used his presence in the British House of Commons, and his considerable oratorical skills, to agitate for the ending of slavery in the British Empire. His arrival in the British parliament caused disquiet amongst those MPs who supported slavery. A group of them even offered O’Connell support on Irish issues in return for his silence on abolition. He responded, “Gentlemen, God knows that I speak for the saddest people the sun sees, but may my right hand forget its cunning and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth before, to help Ireland, I keep silent on the negro question.” In 1833, the British parliament voted to end slavery in the British Empire. O’Connell’s elation was tempered by two facts: slave-owners were to be given over £20,000 in compensation, and the ending of slavery was not to be immediate, but replaced by a system of ‘apprentice-ship,’ that is, slavery by another name. O’Connell led the opposition to what he regarded as a betrayal of the slaves, and demanded of the House of Commons, “Was that what the Negro expected? Was that what the country so long sought for and expected?” O’Connell’s unrelenting campaign meant that the apprenticeship system was ended in 1838. In 1839, O’Connell became embroiled in a controversy that attracted widespread attention on both sides of the Atlantic. O’Connell publicly refused to recognize the American Ambassador in London, Andrew Stephenson, on the grounds that he was a “slave-breeder.” Stephenson responded by challenging the 65-year-old to a duel. The duel was never fought, but the resulting dispute ran for months in the Irish, British and American newspapers. It also caused disquiet at the highest political levels. The British Foreign Office, no supporter of O’Connell, expressed concern at the venom being heaped on him by some sections of the American press. Queen Victoria, however, despaired that her Irish subject was creating an international diplomatic incident. Her apprehensions were well-founded. Henry Clay, an American, pro-slavery senator, publicly condemned O’Connell’s interference in the slavery question. In contrast, Stephenson’s behavior was criticized in the House of Congress by John Quincy Adams, himself an abolitionist. An unexpected outcome of this controversy was that Frederick Douglass, when in Ireland a few years later, referred to this incident and explained how O’Connell’s actions had inspired him. He explained: “I heard my master curse him, and therefore I loved him. In London, Mr. O’Connell tore off the mask of hypocrisy from the slave-holders, and branded them as the vilest of the vile, and the most execrable of the execrable, for no man can put words together stronger than Mr. O’Connell.” O’Connell’s argument with Stephenson had made him the scourge of American slave-owners but, according to Douglass, it had elevated him to the hero of American slaves. Moreover, the Stephenson controversy demonstrated that O’Connell had become a central figure in the abolition question in the United States. In 1840, the first international Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London. O’Connell’s participation confirmed his reputation as the most influential abolitionist in the world. The Americans who attended the Convention were particularly fulsome in their praise, with William Lloyd Garrison describing O’Connell as “the most wonderful of the statesmen and orators of the age.” Another delegate, Charles Lenox Remond, a black abolitionist, was also charmed, writing that, “No nation or people possesses a superior to Daniel O’Connell.” The success of the London Convention, but primarily O’Connell’s contributions, persuaded Remond to turn Irish support into something more permanent. Together with James Haughton and Richard Webb, two Irish Abolitionists, he composed “An Address of the People of Ireland to their Countrymen and Countrywomen in America.” The Address was signed by O’Connell, leading people to assume he was the author. It described slavery as a blot on American greatness and it appealed directly to Irish-Americans to support abolition. Members of the Hibernian Anti-slavery Society took the Address from door to door in Ireland, collecting signatures. By 1842, they had gathered over 70,000. The Address was then taken to Boston by Remond. However, the Address caused dissent and division within the immigrant communities. Asking Irish immigrants to support the Address meant unwittingly encouraging them to criticize the American government and thus appear both ungrateful and unpatriotic. Bishop John Hughes of New York urged Irish Americans not to sign the Address on the grounds that supporting abolition would expose them to being caught between their loyalty to their country of birth and that to their adopted country. O’Connell was disappointed at the reluctance of some of his fellow Irishmen in the United States to support abolition. In 1843, while facing imprisonment by the British government for convening a Repeal meeting at Contra, he penned an eleven page denunciation of slavery, and of those who tolerated it. His message was uncompromising and unequivocal: "How can the generous, the charitable, the humane, and the noble emotions of the Irish heart have become extinct amongst you? How can your nature be so totally changed as that you should become the apologists and advocates of the execrable system which makes man the property of his fellow man – destroys the foundation of all moral and social virtues – condemns to ignorance, immorality and irreligion, millions of our fellow creatures…? It was not in Ireland that you learned this cruelty…
 Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice saying come out of such a land you Irishmen, or if you remain and dare continue to countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognize you as Irishmen no longer!" William Lloyd Garrison, the leading American abolitionist, said of O’Connell’s denunciation, “I do not remember anything finer from the lips of any European or American patriot.” Until his death in 1847, O’Connell remained an outspoken proponent of immediate abolition and an advocate of treating freed slaves as the equals of white men. Even following his death, his influence continued. In the struggle for hearts and minds that preceded the American Civil War, the speeches of O’Connell were widely reprinted in the Northern states, bringing him to a new generation of abolitionists. In 1875, centenary celebrations for O’Connell took place throughout the world. Some of the largest were located in the United States. In Boston, valedictory tributes to O’Connell were made by the three leading American abolitionists: William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillip, and John Greenleaf Whittier. They each honored O’Connell as the most important abolitionist of the age. In Ireland and Britain, Daniel O’Connell is remembered as the Liberator of Irish Catholics, but he also played a significant role in liberating enslaved people both in the British Empire and in North America. Moreover, his inclusive, egalitarian and humanitarian approach truly made him both a friend and champion of the slave. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “The fire of freedom was burning in his mighty heart.”

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