Sheela-na-Gruia, Julliana, Johanna, Jude etc

This document is on line at the Internet Archives; although the date given in the introductory is incorrectly given as 1849 – should read 1893.
The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (Volume 22)

Preface – (preface ix. – image 11)

Under the head of ” Miscellanea” there are gathered in each Part a large number of shorter communications sent in by Members. . . . In these pages an opportunity is offered to our Fellows and Members to record permanently antiquarian finds of any kind, survivals of primitive customs, and unrecorded scraps of our fast dying Folklore ; and generally short notes on matters of importance which can be dealt with briefly, from those who may not have opportunity to prepare more formal Papers.


[Question – ( page 291 image 337)]

Sheela-na-Guira. I am anxious to know particulars of the history of this individual, at what time she lived, and where ? There is a castle upon the top of a hill about two miles and a-half north of Borrisoleigh, in the territory of Heigh ; it is named ” Cullahill,” and is said to have been the residence of ” Sheela-na-Guira ” ; that her name was Gillian Dwyer ; that she was a great tyrant and oppressor of her neighbours, and had killed her sister. I climbed up to the castle lately. It is oblong and only two stories high, and part of it seems to have been blown up with gunpowder.
JOHN DAVIS WHITE, Hon. Fellow ; Hon. Secretary for South Tipperary.

[Answer – (page 437 image 489)]

Sheela-na-Guira. I cannot give my friend Mr. John Davis White, the particulars he wishes for, but I can give some, which may put him in the way of getting them. Sheela-na-Guira is a corruption of Sheela Ny Oara ; the lady in question was daughter of the head of the Connaught O’Garas, and a celebrated beauty in whose honour the fine Irish air called after her was composed, but I do not now remember when she lived, and I never heard any particulars of her history. What Mr. White heard may be quite correct ; she may have married a Dwyer of Cullahill near Borrisoleigh.

Sheela is the Irish equivalent for Julliana or Julia, of which Gillian is evidently a form. It is very curious the way in which names are often changed by translation and re-translation between Irish, Latin, and English, coupled with the attempts of Anglo-Irish scribes, chroniclers, and genealogists, to reduce Irish names from Irish manuscripts or oral recital to English spelling.

Julliana and Johanna seem very often interchangeable ; how, or why, I have never been able to find out, the Irish equivalent of one being Sheela, and of the other Shivaun (Sioban). I have met very numerous instances of this. One is that of the wife of Cornelius O’Connor Kerry, the donor of the beautiful processional cross to Lislaghtin Abbey, county Kerry.

She is in the inscription on the cross called “Julliana filia militis,” and in the researches into the genealogy of the O’Connors and their intermarriages with the Glin Geraldines, which I made to verify my reading of the date on the cross, I came on authorities respecting this lady, daughter of the Knight of Glin, married to “Cornelius the son of John,” the O’Connor Kerry, at the end of the
fifteenth century, in one of which she was called Johanna, and in another Sybila. The latter was the first I got, and was for some time a great stumbling block to me, but in the end I found that there could be no possible doubt that Sybila was identical with Johanna, and both with Julliana, one of the donors of the cross.

This interchangeability of the two latter names is, as I have said before, of frequent occurrence, but how did either come to be changed into Sybila ? I think the lady must have been commonly called Shivaun, and that the Anglo-Irish genealogist, seeing “Sioban” in some pedigree or other document written by an Irishman, thought it more like Sybila than any other name he was acquainted with and accordingly made it Sybila.

I remember some years ago seeing a report of a trial in the “West of Ireland –I think it was the celebrated case of the murder of the Joyces at Maamtrasna, but am not quite sure –in which several Irish-speaking witnesses were examined, the Christian name of one of whom was given as “Sybila.” I felt pretty sure that this was not the name she was called by in Irish, and made several attempts to find out of what Irish name it was supposed to be a translation. I did not succeed, but am very much inclined to think that the woman’s name was Shivaun. I wish I knew ; perhaps some of our Connaught Members could give some information on thesubject.

P.S. There are numbers of women in this part of the country (West Limerick) called ” Jude ” and ” Juge ” ” Joan and Joney ;” they all invariably give their names as Johanna, I never heard one call herself Julia or Judith. The ” Thades ” and ” Tadys ” also all call themselves Timothy as well as the ” Tims,” the ” Mortys ” some Mortimer and some Martin, never Murtogh. Conors are all Cornelius.

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