Sheila NaGeira

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The legend of Sheila NaGeira, the Irish Princess, claims that she was the first European woman to give birth in Newfoundland and quite possibly North America (although Virginia Dare is reported to have been born in the Roanoke Colony in 1587; and the Vinland Sagas record the birth of Snorri Thorfinnsson to Icelandic parents around the year 1005 in Vinland, possibly in the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows). Sheila NaGeira is sometimes claimed to have been the island's first schoolteacher, midwife and herbal doctor.

Popular belief has it that in 1602 Sheila was a young Irish noblewoman on her return trip sailing from France, where she had been studying in a French convent run by her aunt, an abbess. She was captured by a Dutch privateer in the English Channel and subsequently rescued by Peter Easton, an English privateer loyal to Queen Elizabeth I. At the time Easton's fleet was on their way to Newfoundland to protect the English fishing fleet there and took with them their rescued prisoners to Newfoundland. While a passenger aboard Easton's vessel she fell in love with his lieutenant, Gilbert Pike and they eventually married. Pike had left Easton's employ and they both settled in a place called Mosquito Cove, now Bristol's Hope. In 1611 they moved to nearby Carbonear to escape the return of Easton who by that time became a much feared pirate under the reign of James I.

It has been suggested that NaGeira is an epithet meaning the beautiful, and that her actual name was O'Connor the daughter of a claimant to the Irish throne of Connacht.

Controversy[edit]

The official record for a European child born in Newfoundland was on 27 March 1613 to a Nicholas Guy and his wife, whose name was not recorded. There are no historical records of a Sheila NaGeira existing, let alone having given birth, or being married to a Gilbert Pike. The Canadian Conservation Institute in 1982 had confirmed that the alleged burial place for Sheila showed a crumbling stone of a John Pike, but no mention of a Sheila.

The mythology of Shelia NaGeira seems to have first been recorded in print at the beginning of the twentieth century, there is no mention of her in any of the histories of the island or its folk beliefs prior to that. It is possible a local legend pre-dates that, but no evidence has been found to date.

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