A visit to Jerpoint Co. Kilkenny and Santa Claus with Stephen Walsh.
Today I’m going to bring you on a most interesting walk in County Kilkenny – did you know that there is a real link between Santa Claus and this part of Ireland ?
Come along with me to visit the tomb effigy of St Nicholas himself !!
We are near the famous Jerpoint Abbey and a few hundred yards away lies Jerpoint park, and within the grounds of the estate lie the lost town of Newtown Jerpoint .Let’s park the car and meet Joe and Maeve O’Connell who own the property ,and Maeve is going to give us a private tour !
Maeve tells us that the property is known as Belmore house, and they purchased the property some years ago. It’s a working farm, but on the property there were the crumbling ruins of a church and ancient marks in the fields , which are themselves concealing a bigger treasure of the lost town of Newtown Jerpoint that dates back to 1200 AD , before vanishing around 1600 AD . As we go along , Maeve tells us that in recent years she has uncovered some historical details about the town. Records show that at its most prosperous in 1450 AD, there were approximately 27 houses in the town and 14 Taverns (a pub at every second house), alongside a tannery, brewery, a woollen mill, a courthouse, and the church itself.
Let’s head into the Church yard itself.
As we stroll through the ruined church we can see how its constructed – the bell tower is unusual and larger than we would normally see – in fact Maeve tells us that it was converted to living quarters so that the priest literally lived over the church itself.
Now, to the highlight of the tour – right beside the church lies a weathered carved tomb that bears the image of Saint Nicholas. There are many myths and stories surrounding Saint Nicholas. It is said that he born in the 4th century to a wealthy family in Turkey. He used his wealth to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering in the locality and was made bishop of the coastal town of Myra in the territory of Lycia. Maeve reminds us that Saint Nicholas is the saint behind who we refer to as Santa Claus. He was often depicted with three bags or balls symbolising three bags of gold. The story goes that there was once a poor man who had three daughters – his daughters were at risk of being sold as slaves without the money to pay their dowry. It is said that St. Nicholas dropped three bags of gold down the chimney to pay the dowry where it landed in a stocking that had been hung up beside the fire to dry.
St Nicholas died in 343 AD and was buried locally and remained undisturbed until 1087 when returning crusading knights removed his bones and brought them to Bari in southern Italian to prevent them falling into the hands of the advancing Saracen armies. Sometime afterwards two Irish knights took his remains back to Ireland, and it’s claimed that they lie beneath this tomb !! When we take a close look at the carving, we can see the image of St. Nicholas with the heads of two knights and we can see that the thumbs of the saint are joined together , which is an ancient symbol of generosity . The story seems to be credible as historically the Normans in Kilkenny were keen collectors of religious relics, and it is believed that the tomb was a great source of income for the church as pilgrims had to make a donation when they visited .
I think that you will agree that this is one of the most curious and interesting places that I have brought you , and Jerpoint park is well worth a visit when you come to Ireland. I promised Maeve that I would mention their website if you would like to find out more : its www.jerpointpark.com
Please enter your contact details here and your question and I will answer it as soon as possible, many thanks. Stephen