St Patrick has been associated with snakes and shamrocks but the fact that he had a wife has largely been confined to the annals of history according to a UCC folklorist.
In the old Irish calendar the day after St Patrick’s Day is Sheelah’s Day but what is less known is that Sheelah was Patrick’s wife.
Shane Lehane, Department of Folklore and Ethnology/Béaloideas, UCC, says Sheelah was Patrick’s “other half” and that the March 17th celebrations were extended for an additional 24 hours to commemorate her life.
Lehane observes that antiquarian journals and newspaper accounts of the 18th and 19th centuries in Ireland indicate the wide-spread belief that St Patrick had a wife.
“Pre Famine, pre-1845, if you go back to the newspapers in Ireland they talk not just about Patrick’s Day but also Sheelah’s Day. So I wondered where this came from? You have Paddy’s day on the 17th and it continues on to Sheelah’s day. I came across numerous references that Sheelah was thought to be Patrick’s wife. She was his other half. The folk tradition has no problem with such detail. The fact that we have Patrick and Sheelah together should be no surprise. Because that duality, that union of the male and female together, is one of the strongest images that we have in our mythology.”