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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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St. Nicholas of Myra

An American Tourist in Ireland (2)

On Sunday, my second day in Ireland, my tour group left Dublin shortly after breakfast. We then traveled to Co. Kilkenny see the lost town of Jerpoint Park and the church of St. Nicholas.

Artist rendition of the the village; lower right hand corner shows infrared outline of the original village.
Artist rendition of the village; the lower right hand corner shows the outline of the original village.

This was a fun and unique experience, as a family owns not just the sheep farm and house (originally to be servants quarters), but the lost village itself is located on the property. The family live in what is called Belmore House, a stately home that was originally designed to be the servants’ quarters, according to our guide. But the gentleman building the house ran out of money, so the house remains as it is.

The old road that led us Belmore House actually ran through the original village of Newtown Jerpoint, population 250. There a number of pubs in this village, more than one would think could be sustained by a such a small population.

Church of St. Nicolas. In the background, to the right, is Jerpoint Abbey.

How many pubs were there in this village? Fourteen. That’s right, folks, there were fourteen pubs to satisfy the thirst of 250 villagers.

Well, actually, not just the villagers – it was designed for the many tourists that came through to visit the Church of St. Nicholas and Jerpoint Abbey. You know, people like me, who like to lollygag and take pictures and write blog posts about their experiences. Although, I am not sure there were such things as travel guides back in the day, when St. Nicholas was re-interred in the churchyard he currently resides in.

Tomb of St. Nicolas.

And who is this St. Nicholas chap, anyway? And why was this an important stop, you ask? Well, St. Nicholas is St. Nicholas of Myra and he was buried in that churchyard over 800 years ago. Allegedly brought back to Ireland by two crusaders, he has remained in the churchyard ever since. If you look carefully at the grave slab, you can see their faces inscribed on either side of St. Nicholas in the photo to the left.

It wasn’t unusual for the crusaders to bring back the remains of an alleged saint – the Normans were keen collectors of religious artifacts and brought what they found back home. Whether the items in question should have been moved in the first place is up for debate. (1)

This is St. Nicholas.

As with many other historical figures, we are lucky to have physical descriptions of them recorded in written form. Even luckier are when there are sketches or paintings made, generally from life. Most often, however, we are left with an artist’s rendition of what the written word describes.

And to the right is a very stylized rendition of what St. Nicholas may have looked like, back when he was hale and hearty, very much alive and practicing his faith among his flock and blessing those around him.

 

But thanks to the myriad paths of myth and fantasy, we have come to know him as this fellow in the photo on the left.:

So, in essence, I know where Santa Claus is buried.

 

 

 

 

(1) Given that many museums are now finding themselves in an awkward position of being in possession of artifacts that technically should not have been given to them and are making efforts to either return or make reparations, I wonder if the caretakers of St. Nicholas’ church have ever had that question put to them. I regret not asking.

An American Tourist in Ireland (1)

In books and movies (and the occasional TV show), when the main character goes on vacation, adventure inevitably happens. Agatha Christie wrote quite a few of my favorites, among them, The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad. In both novels, a young woman embarks on an adventure – Anne Beddingfeld (TMitBS) for mystery and Victoria Jones (TCtB) for love. Both get far more than they bargained for.

A classic adventure story by the Queen of Crime and one of my favorites.

When I embarked on my adventure to Ireland, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I only knew this was a journey I needed to make. My great-great grandparents emigrated from the Emerald Isle and that’s pretty much all I know about them. They are the mystery I need to unravel and put the puzzle pieces in the right place, to better know my family, my great-grandfather and myself.

Did I get adventure? Not in the same manner as Anne or Victoria did. I did go to a country that was magical and exciting and both familiar and strange to me. I got a marriage proposal, after a fashion, but it was more in jest than seriousness. I felt Ireland’s history and present merge, depart and walk alongside each other. In a country whose civilization dates back more than ten thousand years, it’s not uncommon to feel that weight.

History is itself an adventure. So is life.

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