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Republic of Ireland news

Celebrations urged for St Patrick's long-forgotten wife Sheelah

Ross Jonas from Play It By Ear drama group as St Patrick. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Brian Hutton, Press Association

An academic has called for St Patrick's Day festivities to be extended, to celebrate the patron saint's long-forgotten wife Sheelah.

Shane Lehane, of University College Cork, said Ireland's premier national saint had an "other half" who for centuries used to be commemorated by "merry devotees" on March 18.

The folklorist came across Mrs St Patrick while scouring Irish newspapers from before the Great Famine, which contained intriguing references to Sheelah's Day.

"So I wondered where this came from," he said.

"I came across numerous references that Sheelah was thought to be Patrick's wife. She was his other half."

He added: "St Sheelah's Day was news to me. I thought it was amazing, as all memory of her seems to have died out here."

The historian and lecturer at the university's Department of Folklore uncovered further evidence in old texts which showed Ireland's national day of celebration traditionally spilled over into the next day.

An excerpt from John Carr's 1806 travelogue The Stranger in Ireland records "very tipsy" St Patrick's Day revellers around the country who "continue drunk the greater part of the next day" all in honour of "Sheelagh, St Patrick's wife".

Mr Lehane said the forgotten date on the old Irish calendar should be revived.

"What I think is very interesting is that people in Ireland in the past had no problem whatsoever accepting that Patrick had a wife," he said.

"The church was very strong and during the period of Lent from Ash Wednesday right through to Easter Sunday you had major prohibitions.

"However, folk tradition was such that Patrick afforded a special dispensation and Irish people were allowed to celebrate Patrick's day which always fell in the middle of Lent.

"It seems to have been extended to the 18th of March and was a continuation of celebrations.

"They continued to drink on Sheelah's day and there is a sense that the women were more involved in the celebrations on the 18th. So there is a feminist angle in there."

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