Monkeys, Mermaids and the Evil Eye. Medieval Stone Sculpture at Kilkea Castle and Graveyard

A few weeks back I visited Kilkea Castle which has just reopened as at Hotel and Golf course.  The castle was once the seat of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare.



Kilkea Castle


The castle and surrounding demesne has a long and interesting history. For this short post Im just going to highlight a few of the many interesting features carved in stone that date to the late medieval period.

Within the gatehouse of the castle is a really interesting stone called the The Evil Eye Stone.


The Evil Eye Stone Kilkea Castle

The carving is built into a stone in the guard-room above the bawn entrance to Kilkea Castle. It depicts a man engaged in a sexual act with a semi-human creature with the head of dog or wolf while another beast appears to be having sexual intercourse and eating the man at the same time while a bird pecks at this chest. Gary Dempsey has created a wonderful 3D model of the stone using photogrammetry (see reference section also for the link).

According to Lord Walter Fitzgerald (1896, 27) this stone was an ‘evil eye’ stone.

The idea of the “Evil Eye” is that a person unknown to himself may possess it, so that by admiring or looking at a human being, beast, or crop, &c., he would unintentionally cause it to sicken or be blighted by its evil influence; to prevent the present day, the peasants will add “God bless it” or “God bless you” when taking any special notice of anything; while in the old times grotesquely cut carving were built into castles near the entrance in order to attract the “Evil Eye”, and so prevent its evil influence from affecting the dwellers in them.



View of Kilkea Castle from Graveyard.


A number of other interesting carvings are found close to the castle in the graveyard.

The graveyard is a circular shaped raised area enclosed by a stone wall and a series of   large trees around periphery.  At the  centre of graveyard are the ruins of  a late medieval church.


A sixteenth century chapel  dedicated tot the Blessed Virgin abuts the north wall of the chancel of the church. The Fitzgerald mortuary chapel is located at the west side of the nave of the church. The burial-place of Lords of Leinster the Fitzgeralds are found within the church defined by a iron railing.

There area a number of  late medieval carved stones including two stone fonts in the graveyard.



Within the church there are several interesting late medieval carved stones. One is a stone plaque called the Monkey Stone dating to the sixteenth/ seventeenth century is set into the west wall of the church. The plaque depicts a monkey with collar and chain holding a helmet in one hand (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1). The monkey is part of the Fitzgerald Coat of Arms.


Close by is another  carving of a limestone panel with a mermaid carved in relief. She hold two long strands of her hair in her right hand and in her left hadn she holds a comb/mirror. The lower part of her body is shaped like a fish and a snake-like creature is biting her tail’ (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 241).


Mermaid plaque at Kilkea Church



Illustration of a carving of  Kilkea mermaid (after Fitzgerald 1898-1902, 241)


A third  plaque bears the coat of arms of the Fitzgerald family

carved in false relief with a heater shaped shield with helmet and lynx above. Below the shield in the lower corners are two small shields; the left one has the arms of Fitzgerald impaling Keating while the right has the Fitzgerald arms impaling Geidon. Below are the initials: I K 1630 SG (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1)



Plaque with the Fitzgerald coat of arms


The remains of a broken late medieval chest tomb are also found within the Lady Chapel.


The graveyard also has some fine examples of late eighteenth and early  nineteenth century gravestones.



You might also be interested in an earlier post on the pet cemetery at Kilkea Castle.


Fitzgerald, W. 1 Kilkea Castle ournal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.II, No.1.  2-34.

Fitzgerald, W. 1889-1902. ‘William Fitzgerald of Castleroe and his tomb in Kilkea churchyard’, Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.  III, 229-253.

Evil Eye Stone


5 comments on “Monkeys, Mermaids and the Evil Eye. Medieval Stone Sculpture at Kilkea Castle and Graveyard

  1. What an amazing collections of complex carvings

  2. Thank you for this very interesting piece. It is all fascinating. That mermaid relief is very intriguing. The “Evil Eye” piece is extraordinary. Seen a few Sheela na Gigs etc, but never seen anything quite like that before, and certainly not in Ireland. (medieval Italy maybe, or India) Quite extraordinary. Anyway, thank you. 🙂

  3. Finola says:

    That is a WOW carving all right.

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