The saint who the legend of Santa Claus is based on is believed to be buried in Kilkenny, according to local historians.
The remains of St Nicholas of Myra, the philanthropist who lived in the 4th century and was the bishop of Lycia, are thought to have been moved to Jerpoint Abbey some 800 years ago.
During his life, St Nicholas left anonymous gifts for the poor and his well-known generosity propelled him to sainthood shortly after his death in 346, inspiring the legend of the jolly man in the red suit.
One story attributed to St Nicholas was that of a a poor man with three daughters who didn’t have the money to buy their dowries and thus save his children from slavery. As the girls came of age and the man’s angst increased, bags of gold were tossed through a window or down a chimney over three nights - providing him with the funds he needed to save his girls.
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. Early pilgrims visited the cathedral in Myra to pay their respects to the bishop.
The bishop was originally buried at a local church in Myra, in modern day Turkey, when he died. Historians now believe his body was later moved to the abbey in Ireland by early crusaders.
Chairman of Callan Heritage Society Philip Lynch said that the remains were twice transferred across Europe in the 12th century.
Mr Lynch claims a French family called the de Frainets moved the saint’s remains from Myra to Italy in 1169. A relative called Nicholas de Frainet then took the remains to Ireland when his family relocated there and built a dedicated Cistercian abbey to the saint at Jerpoint.
“St Nicholas Church is still standing and there is a slab on the ground which marks St Nicholas's grave,” he said.
Few locals know of the much-loved figure’s link with Kilkenny.
“It is an amazing story and yet very few people in Ireland know about St Nicholas's connection with this country,” he said. “Every year now we get visitors to the site, but still not that many.”
* Source: The Belfast Telegraph