Jeanne Rathbone


Sheela-na-Gig is the name  I decided to use when I perform as a comedienne. When I heard about these  Sheelas in an article in the Irish Times in 1984 I decided that I would, at sometime, use it as a pseodonym because I reckoned that she makes a most suitable role model for a pagan, fenale, Irish pensioner like myself. See how I tick those diversity boxes!! So when I did decide to get into the comedy business  Sheela-na-Gig was the name I adopted. I still meet people from the comedy world who think my name is SHEELA. It is a great feeling when you get across what you want to say and get laughs — it is multi-orgasmic and when there are a lot of people it is orgiastic. But after the slog of doing the Edinburgh festival in 1996 I discovered that I didn’t have the stamina and or the fire in my belly for comedy gigging as it is a hostile and tough place for women. However, it was a terrfic experience and it is a great feeling when you get across what you want to say and get laughs — it is multi-orgasmic and when there are a lot of people it is orgiastic. So when I started to blog I  just had to continue to use the inspiring name of  SHEELA-NA -GIG as she is the obvious role model for me compared to any other Irish female archetype  like the VIRGIN MARY – THE MOTHER OF SORROWS.

Marymary-tattooMary Virgin


Sheela-na-Gig at Kilpeck


She makes a most suitable role model for a pensioner pagan Irishwoman like myself. Here is a video clip of me as Sheela.
PJ Harvey was inspired to sing about her.

been trying to show you over and over
look at these,
my child-bearing hips
look at these, my ruby-red ruby lips
look at these, my work strong-arms
you’ve got to see my bottle full of charm
lay it all at your feet
you turn around and say back to me
he said
sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist

better wash that man right out of my hair
-”just like the first time, said you didn’t care”
-”heard it before, no more”
-”turn the corner, another one there “
-”heard it before”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————– Here is a piece from an article in The Independent about the Kilpeck Sheela-na-Gig.

“On a temple in Kathmandu, it would not be out of place. But a carving of female genitalia seems unusual on any church in England. The entire building is decorated in a remarkable fusion of Viking, Saxon and Celtic styles. But it is the 12th-century equivalent of a Playboy centrefold – known from the Irish as a “Sheela-na-Gig” – that draws most visitors to the cocoa-coloured sandstone church of Kilpeck, eight miles south west of Hereford.

The sculpture, one of more than 50 on the outside of the church, is described in a poem by Seamus Heaney as “hunkered under the eaves”, “twig boned and saddle sexed”. More prosaically, she has the head of an alien, is pulling open a vulva the size of a tractor tyre, and has nothing but a strand of recent cobweb for modesty.

Joy Manning sells tea and Welsh cakes from her home across the lane. “To the locals the Sheela is just part of the scenery. But it’s definitely what people come for,” she says. “Even so, they are shy about asking for postcards. Well, except for an American woman. And what she really wanted was a Sheela-na-Gig T-shirt.”

There are Sheelas elsewhere, particularly in France and Ireland. Even so, I wondered whether her presence here might have had some local influence. Mrs Manning assured me that Kilpeck is not now a wife-swapping sort of place. But this wasn’t always so.”

I would happily have given the American woman one of my tea-towels which is of a Cavan Sheela.

Some years later, in the early nineties, I had the vague notion of doing comedy. On returning from Ireland in September after our usual six weeks staying at our cottage in Tonnegurane near Galway, my hometown, I would buy bought a copy of the Irish Post- the newspaper for the Irish in England. I always felt that September was the beginning of a new year when resolutions were made. Some years previously I had got a copy of the Irish Post on the way back and spotted an advertisement for two jobs Hammersmith one of which was for a radical planning group called the Hammersmith Community Trust and the other was for a Women’s Officer for Hammersmith and Fulham council. I got and accepted the first post and later was interviewed and offered the second one (which I accepted!)

In September 91 the there was an advertisement for The Mean Fiddler open-spot comedy competition. I decided to  on the way home to ring them the next day and book myself in for a few weeks hence. On the night I gigged as Sheela-na-Gig for the first time there was a blackout in that part of Willesden and we performed by candlelight I was runner up and got the comedy bug. The act quickly developed from talking about the Sheela image to using male nudes etc. I honed it on the comedy circuit but soon realised it was no place for a menopausal Irish comedienne – I felt freakish and too lonely. My comedy material is very much about things that are significant for me as a feminist, atheist, Philosophy graduate, old Irish woman. Comedy is such a powerful and enjoyable way of getting this across.

Harvey O’Leary, Kevin Hayes, Gerry Kennedy and myself as the CRAIC PACK and Viv Stevens, Lucy Bagley and me as TWO WIVES and A SPINSTER.

I got together then with a group off Irish comedians and packaged ourselves as The Craic Pack and with two women I had met, Viv Stevens and Lucy Bagley as ‘Miss Jessop’,  as ‘Two wives and a spinster’.  We got a few gigs at Arts venues/festivals but it became irksome trying to coordinate dates etc. so I decided to stop doing the circuit and expanded to a one women show for Edinburgh so that I could tell any grandchildren that I might have that I had a go at the  Edinburgh Fringe.


I sent one of my fliers to The South London Irish Centre which they returned stating that ‘the ladies and gentlemen who use our club are far too sophisticated for this rubbish’. The other picture is from the Battersea Arts Centre Irish festival featuring a ‘before he had his own show on telly’ Graham Norton.

So I organised getting a venue, publicity, fliers etc,  and trundled up to Edinburgh in early hot  August of ’96 and we stayed with Clodagh and her two neurotic cats very near to the Calton Centre. I was chuffed with the reviews I got but very soon realised that doing a  one-woman show was lonely and a big responsibility. I wasn’t cut out for that night after night slog and obviously just didn’t have the burning ambition at all so packed it in after an enjoyable little tour in Ireland with Dave, my husband, as ‘roadie’ as he was retired by then. Comedy is still a hostile place for women. FUNNY WOMEN  is an organisation dedicated to promoting woemn in comedy. It holds an annual competition. Not surprisingly, it is geared to younger women srarting out in comedy so that pensioners  are not encouraged or promoted by them I did suggest to them that they could host showcases for pensioners who just want to do comedy for fun and NOT to make a career of it but they weren’t interested.

My Edinburgh comedy foray and realisation that I hadn’t the stamina and fire in my belly for the  comedy business also coincided with me training as a Humanist Celebrant which has become my main vocation. It is wonderful and privileged work. The crematorium chapel is my stage now although I have taken a few weddings in Chateau in France, castilla in Spain, villas in Italy and in a salt mine in Cracow, as well as conducting  lovely namings and naming/wedding combined which I promote as the cheap, hassle-free wedding!

Sheela-na-Gig continues to inspire me as I think of her as she is stuck up on the wall of a castle or church in Ireland and I wonder what she makes of the world that see sees around her as she masturbates.  I even have a Sheela-na-Gig in my back garden.

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