Irish Women and Catholicism

‘Tis only meself on the altar stone of the Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork

When Saint Patrick arrived in Ireland, allegedly circa AD 428, the Irish had their own religion, Druidism. Patrick lived as a slave and then escaped Ireland, leaving behind a foreign land, people, and religion.

Like many other indigenous tribes throughout the world, the Celts of Ireland worshipped the world that surrounded them. The Eskimo, Native American Indian and so many other tribes worshipped in similar ways. The forest, rivers, mountains and weather all influenced the belief system of the Celts.

Mother goddess

Mother earth, or mother goddess, was revered. Women were held in high esteem because they could give birth, and the most important woman in many tribes was the mid-wife.

This was contested by the cult of the head, warriors who made life taking more revered than life-giving,and transitioned a matriarchal society into a patriarchal society, and that transition was far from peaceful.

Cult of the head

Along comes Patrick, now a Catholic bishop, and according to Patrick himself in his own words,”I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” via De Paor Liam (1993), Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age pg 100.

Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork.

I doubt very much that the Irish “appealed” for Patrick to come back and “walk among them.” Because the Druids and Druidism still existed in Ireland, the Irish had a religion. Yes, the cult of the head caused a major shift in societal ideology, but let’s face it, most people lived isolated lives on crannogs, peaceful lives.

The warrior cult of the head existed most likely by the shoreline, battling off invasions from mainland Europe.Patrick’s conversion of the Irish from Druidism to Catholicism reminds me of the assimilation of human to cyborg; it had to be done gradually, retaining aspects of the former, but coercing the new ideology into the new structure.

When Patrick arrived in Ireland he witnessed a fully functional religion that contradicted the religion he belonged to, Catholicism. Patrick was an ordained bishop when he returned to Ireland in AD 428 (c.) and he was adamant that the old ways would only survive if they melded themselves with the new. The earlier post entitled The Lucky Four Leaf Clover: Celtic Christianity at it’s best is a small snippet of information about how an aspect of Celtic life was taken, twisted and implemented into the new faith.

In the new faith, women were demonized. There are stone carvings over a number of castles, churches, and towers in Ireland called Sheela na Gig; to date 101 such carvings have been found.

These carvings are of grotesque women, exposing their private body parts. I can’t think of a better method of demonizing women. And believe it or not, these Sheela na Gigs are carved above church doorways.

The severe type of Catholicism that existed in Ireland is connected to Jansenism, a theological movement that began in France. It advocated receiving communion and confession daily in order to save your soul. It was a severe form of Christianity, advocating depriving oneself and predestination of souls.


Another factor that affected the Type of Catholicism was the teachings of Saint Paul, particularly his teachings about women in Catholicism, which, believe it or not, are based on women of the Jewish faith.

Paul, I have a big problem using the word Saint with him, suggested that women were not good enough to serve, teach or vote in religions affairs or the church. Paul is the reason my mother had to cover her head with a mantilla when she went to mass, and he is also the reason she had to be “churched” or blessed and purified after giving birth.

When I think of how the Irish viewed sex and women in those early days of Catholicism, is it any wonder that monks were beating the arses off themselves with nettles in their beehive huts? “Sex is bad, WHACK!” They did a great job on the Book of Kells though.

A page from The Book of Kells, a coloring book for sexually frustrated men.


7 thoughts on “Irish Women and Catholicism

  1. Pingback: Same Country, different planet: Pregnancy termination in Ireland | Breise! Breise! Extra! Extra!

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