Santa Claus – The Irish Connection

Santa 1

Ok so most of us will be aware that the Jolly old man whom brings joy to the good children all across the globe every year. Now whilst he can vary from country to country, the most commonly known version Father Christmas is well known pretty much everywhere with some regional and sometimes downright strange differences in parts of the world. Such as, Pere Noel in France, La Befana in Italy, Ded Moroz in Slavic countries and Sinterklaas in Holland. Im not going to look at the commercial changes of certain big global corporates here whom have changed the public’s perception of Old Saint Nick or the numerous Christian reasons for avoiding him. What I wish to look at today is the Irish connection to Santa Claus. So if you are under a certain age that should be in bed before Santa arrives with his sleigh full of toys, then please stop reading or you might end up with your name on the naughty list.

Santa 2

OK, so Father Christmas/Santa Claus is the modern embodiment of an early Christian saint, Nicholas of Myra. And well it would seem that St Nick is in fact buried in Ireland of all places. So how did he get there, well our story begins about 1600 years ago, where a chap known Nikolaos from Greece became the bishop of Myra, in modern day Turkey. By the time Nicholas died, on December 6, 345, word of his kind deeds and alledged miracles had become widespread public knowledge. One of the most famous stories about Nicholas was that he used his wealth to protect three young girls, whose father was too poor to provide them with adequate dowries. Without dowries, the girls were doomed to a life of prostitution as the only means of supporting themselves. Nicholas, it was said, put gold into three bags and threw them at the girls’ window. It is thought that the man who inspired the tradition of leaving presents under a Christmas tree, came from a wealthy family and he is believed to have given much of his fortune away.

Santa 4

Entrance to St. Nicholas Medieval Church

After his death he was interred in the church at Myra, where he had served as bishop. During the first crusade much of Asia Minor fell to the Turks, and with Myra being such an important place of pilgrimage, sailors from Bari raided Nick’s tomb and removed most of his relics before the city fell. It’s important to remember that during the medieval period relics were not only important for places of pilgrimage, but they also attracted a huge commercial gain. It was then claimed that Venetians also came into possession of some of Nick’s remains and brought them back to Venice where they were placed in the church of St. Nicholas in Lido. As it happens there are numerous churches scatted across the globe which claim to hold relics of the saint, such as a tooth or a finger or toe bone. But a scientific investigation has confirmed that the remains in both Bari and Lido are part of the same skeleton.

Santa 5

Grave of St. Nicholas

And so we move on to how the inspiration for Santa Claus made his way to Ireland. Well as the story goes it was a French family, the De Frainets, whom had removed Nicholas’ remains from Myra to Bari in 1169 when Bari was under Norman control. After the Normans were forced out of Bari, the De Frainets moved to Nice, France, taking the relics with them. After Normans lost power in France, the De Frainets packed up once again, and moved to Thomastown in Ireland in or around 1200AD. This claim is backed up by Philip Lynch, the Chairman of Callan Heritage whom has stated that Nicks ‘remains were twice transferred across Europe in the 12th century’.

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Church of St. Nicholas

My initial investigation into this story led me to believe that Nick’s remains had been placed in Jerpoint Abbey, but this is not the case. I eventually tracked his final resting place to a long forgotten medieval town of Newtown Jerpoint which is just a short distance away from the famous Cistercian Abbey which shares its name. Just outside the ruined church of St. Nicholas, there is a beautifully carved grave slab, carved with an effigy of the saint, flanked by supposedly the two crusading knights whom took his remains from Myra. Newtown flourished for many years before going into decline and eventually being abandoned in the 17th century. The ruins and remains of St. Nicholas now occupy part of a working farm. But the land owners graciously open up part of the farm to the public at certain times of the year. You can even get a guided tour and check out the grave for yourself, just don’t tell the kids. To find out more about this little known, hidden treasure, check out the website JerpointPark. Despite numerous attempts to get down here over the last two years, my plans just never worked out, but I hope to remedy that in the New Year and do some exploring. In the meantime if you do get to visit before me, please let me know how you get on and don’t forget to tell Joe & Maeve I sent you 🙂

Santa 3

Santa Claus – The Irish Connection

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
This entry was posted in Christmas, Diary of a Ruinhunter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to Santa Claus – The Irish Connection

  1. jfwknifton says:

    Presumably, Santa has an army of leprechauns helping to make the toys. And with all that white fur about, it’s only a matter of time before Guinness get involved. Big problem though. Can dairy cows pull a sleigh and fly at the same time?

  2. Ali Isaac says:

    Fabulous post, Ed! I never knew any of this! You have to go there and show us in your own photography style! Looks like a great place to visit. How much of him do you think is actually buried in that grave… a tooth, a finger, a toenail lol!

  3. colonialist says:

    Amazing how he gets about with reindeer and stuff with bits of him stuck in various parts of the world like that! No, a grave error to show the kids.

  4. Fascinating – thank you. I can’t resist asking whether the tooth fairy is buried there as well 🙂

  5. beetleypete says:

    And to think I used to send him letters, burned in the chimney!
    Thanks for the ‘official’ version, Ed.
    Regards, Pete.

  6. noelleg44 says:

    Only you could have sussed this out, Ed. What a great story. All roads lead to Ireland!

  7. Pingback: Santa Claus – The Irish Connection | Scenes of futures past

  8. chattykerry says:

    I was trying to figure out why it was not suitable for minors – group sex, perhaps? Then I realized your were still trying to keep the dream alive… Great blog!

  9. Terrific post ( I didn’t know he tossed bags of money)
    The bits of body parts/ relics all over the place always creeps me out a bit.
    So I shall jingle the bells loudly to obscure that part. (Cool about the grave in the farm field though! So much I’d like to see)

  10. Really cool story and great pics too. Really enjoyed reading about the Irish connection.

  11. solaner says:

    great story, Ed. Thanks for sharing. I already knew parts of the story. But, the parts from his after-death travels were unknown for me.

  12. unironedman says:

    “You better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout, I’m telling you why…” 😉

  13. Interesting post.
    I still think it’s funny that in Germany we celebrate St. Nicholas on the 6th of December through putting small gifts in the boots of children and have an entirely different person bringing the presents on the 24th! 😀

    • Its kind of Cool to find out about the different cultural versions. All based around the same general Character. Some are quite frightning, Krampus and Black Peter? Now if they dont keep the kids on the good list we are all doomed 🙂

      • That’s true.
        Gladly I only had to “deal” with Knecht Ruprecht who isn’t as scary as the other two and simply a run down version of St. Nicholaus. 😉

        • Thats the guy that beats you with a bag of ashes if you cant pray, right? I love all the different legends 🙂

          • No, he’s the guy that puts coals or birches in your stockings if you were naughty – occasionally gives you a whipping with the birches. But it might be that there is a version of him that beats people with a bag of ashes…didn’t learn about Krampus until a few years ago and it’s a German tradition – just not my part of Germany.

            • Wow, so you got regional differences too, its so cool. And by the looks of it the best christmas markets. Every year myself and the wife look at a few online. Perhaps one of these days we will throw caution to the wind and just go for it 🙂

              • Quite a lot actually. Up here in the North we usually call the guy bringing the presents Weihnachtsmann (Christmas Man) and on the 6.12. we have the Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht (St. Nicholas and his helper), down in the South they sometimes call the present giver the Christkind (Christchild) and describe it as a blond angel and some regions also have the Krampus.

                The most well known is probably the Nürnberger Christkindl (Christchildy 😉 ) market and the Striezelmarket in Dresden, but I’ve never been there.
                I don’t know what Christmas markets outside of Germany are like, but ours seem to be different at least! 😀
                You should, a visit at a German Christmas market can be quite fun, with lots of tasty things – but also quite expensive. So don’t let the nice exterior fool you, they simply are after your money. 😉

                Some are also great for children, if you want to bring the little ones. 🙂
                The one here in Neubrandenburg for example has a Ferris Wheel and some other rides for children, some tinkering opportunities, a Santa and an Angel. And a lot of choices of very tasty Glühwein for the adults. 😉
                If you two ever decide to take the chance, let me know! Maybe we even manage to say Hi in person. 🙂

                • It all sounds so fantastic, well aware of the comercial side of it, we have a big one up here in Dublin every year, which they try to model on what I have seen of the German markets, but many stalls are full of cheap and tacky rubbish.
                  I have tried Feuerzangenbowle which was rather nice, and I just love Lebkuchen, got to find a good recepie for them.
                  Neubrandenburg looks like it could be the place for me, Ill let you know as soon as we finally make the plan 🙂

                  • I’ve heard that non-German markets are trying to capture the essence of the German markets, but also that it hadn’t really worked so far. Someone told me e.g. that a few German Glühwein-vendors go to the British Isles especially to sell their Glühwein there for twice the price they would get here. 😀
                    Though, you can find a lot of rubbish on German markets as well. 😉

                    Feuerzangenbowle is quite stronger than normal Glühwein and I think most German’s associate it with an old Black&White movie by the same name, rather than the drink itself (one of the Christmas classics I even think).

                    Not much is happening in Neubrandenburg, but it does have some lovely sights like the incredible city wall with its Wiek-Houses (you can read a bit more about it here) and the four big gates, a huge park complex, a few old churches (one now used completely for concerts) and a restaurant I think you might like, as you are only given a knife to dine on your meat. 😉

                    But there is also this “East-German” city flair, which does put everything into a grey perspective, as there are lots of “tall” apartment complexes, some run down and graffiti-ed places and everything seems to be a bit slower than elsewhere. We have a saying here in Meck-Pomm, that whenever something happens elsewhere it’ll eventually reach us about 10-50 years later. 😀

                    Another upside – to advertise it a bit more 😉 – is that a lot of interesting stuff isn’t that far away. It only takes you about 2-3 hours to get to the Baltic Sea, while passing some other way more interesting cities (namely the Hansa-Cities Greifswald and Stralsund), which still have their Old Towns and lots of historic places (I think you’d enjoy the Monastery in Eldena 😉 ). Then there are Penzlin, Hohenzieritz and Neustrelitz that are home to a few old castles (one of the three princesses of Hohenzieritz became the Queen of Prussia and in Penzlin you can visit the old witch-trial torture chambers and they have a castle feast and a feast for Walpurgis Night) and probably way more than I can think of right now…

                    But enough advertisement. Good luck with the planning. 😀

                    • Wow, Thanks so much Anne, Do you think Santa might let me change my Christmas list. That all sounds right up my street. Even those Wiek-Houses which I adore. I think we will definatly have to plan a trip for next December, Im all excited now 🙂

                    • Maybe if you ask nicely. 😀
                      You’re welcome! That’s the least I could with all the help you gave me for our trip last year!

                      Just let me know if you need any help. Maybe I’ll even manage to take my vacation days in way that I can show you around a bit. 🙂

                      With about four weeks of Christmas markets you’d even be home for Christmas itself (they usually run from the Thursday before the first Advent Sunday up to the week/end before Christmas itself). 🙂

                    • I most certainly shall 😁

  14. Very educational, Ed. I never knew any of this. In fact I’m pretty sure I saw Santa Claus in our Town Centre yesterday. He was ringing a bell and collecting money for charity. I’m guessing he has lots of lookalikes around the world who are carrying on his work for him? I hope you get to the place where it is said he is at rest.

  15. So Santa isn’t a Scotsman after all?
    Gutted!!!

  16. hcyip says:

    Interesting story about St. Nicholas and how his remains ended up in Ireland. I hope you make it there in the new year.

  17. Fascinating. Thank you for sharing this.

  18. a fantastic tale!! I believe it! and I love your coloured images here Ed! Nollaig Shona!

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