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Rathcline Church & sheela-na-gig

Rathcline church is a medieval parish church, lying south of the town of Lanesborough. It is surrounded by a walled burial ground, which is within a much larger medieval ecclesiastical enclosure.

The modestly-sized church measures 17 metres by 8.5 metres in width. The stone walls are supported by two buttresses one each on the south and north walls. In the south wall there is a round-headed doorway with only one arch stone surviving.

Within the church itself are a number of highly decorated graveslabs with late 17th/early 18th century inscriptions. Arguably the oldest of these is a rectangular graveslab with an inscription that reads: ‘Here Lyes Interred the body of Anna Forbes Ali[a] Aghm(?)outy with her three children November the 23d 1696’.

Among the interesting historic features on the site is a ‘sheela-na-gig’. It is carved in relief and is situated on the outer face of the western window jamb, which appears to date from the 15th or 16th century. The ornamentation consists of a grotesque female figure with her hands positioned under the breasts and the genitalia exposed.

The term ‘sheela-na-gig’ comes from two possible Gaelic derivations: ‘Síle-in-a-Giob’ meaning ‘Sheela on her hunkers’ or ‘Sighle na nCíoch’, meaning ‘old hag of the breasts’.

They usually appear on church buildings and date from between the 12th to 16th centuries, with some examples appearing on tower houses and castles between the 15th and 16th centuries.

These crude carvings of a nude female may have served as a warning to church-goers against lust and temptation, while those situated on castles could have been protective talismen.

The church and burial ground is open to the public.

Rathcline church and graveyard are approximately 4Kms from the nearest public transport stop in Lanesborough.

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