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Finn Varra Maa - the unsuccessful attempt to create an Irish Nationalist alternative to Santa


TommyO'Brien

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Given the night that is in it, the following story from the second decade of the 20th century might interest some people.

As part of the Nationalist attempt to De-anglocize Ireland in the early years of the 20th century, an attempt was made to replace Fr Christmas/Santa Claus by an Irish version, known as Finn Varra Maa (using the contemporary spelling used by the creator). The creator was a playwright called Thomas H. Nally.
His Finn Varra Maa – an Irish Santa Claus was staged in Christmas 1917 in the Theatre Royal.

In the play an old grandmother sings a song that includes the lines
In England they have one they call ‘Father Christmas’
A grey-bearded Russian they dub ‘Santa Claus’, But here in the fair land of Erin we dismiss Their Moscovite fairies with white whiskered jaws. They have stolen our Poetry, Music and Stories, Our Orators, statesmen, our letters and art. But they shall not rob us of our ancient glories
They're guarded too well in each true Irish heart


According to the attempt, instead of Santa, true Irish children expected a visit from Finn Varra Maa, an old man who lived in the wilds of Connemara dressed in a fairy coat with hay. He did not travel in a sleigh wuth reindeer but in a cart pulled by asses. He made presents for children in Connemara and would travel, by ass and cart, to their houses to deliver the presents anonymously to them.

Unfortunately the story . . . em . . . did not take off.

Nally, BTW, was famous for other things. Firstly, it was his play, The Spancel of Death, that was due to be staged in the Abbey Theatre on Easter Week 1916 but was cancelled because of the . . . um . . inconvenience of a revolution happening a short distance away in the GPO, making it slightly dangerous for patrons of the Abbey to go to the theatre! (The play was finally staged by Tomas MacAnna in the 1980s but flopped badly. Like so many Irish plays of the period, its reliance on rather clichéd rural peasants as characters didn't go well with the audience - even an American audience. Interesting pub quiz question BTW: which actress meant to have starred in The Spancel of Death in 1916, went on to be nominated for an Oscar? The answer is Sara Allgood, who after working for Nally (or not working for him, in the case of The Spancel of Death) acted in some Hitchcock films before being nominated as best supporting actress for 'How Green is my Valley'. She was beaten by Mary Astor.)

Later on, in the late 1920s, with a letter of introduction from his close friend Éamon de Valera, he travelled to live in New Zealand. While there he wrote a book suggesting that New Zealand was about to go communist.

He did have more success, however, in promoting the Irish Eucharistic Congress in New Zealand and getting people to travel from there to Ireland, as well as publishing religious literature about it.
 


NEWN

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Well its Father Christmas in England; saint Nicholas in Neterlands; Santa Claus in US of A; Kris Kringle in Germany; Pere Noel in France; Papa Noel in Spain; grandfather Frost in Russia.....well Ireland did give it a try!
 
M

MrFunkyBoogaloo

Well its Father Christmas in England; saint Nicholas in Neterlands; Santa Claus in US of A; Kris Kringle in Germany; Pere Noel in France; Papa Noel in Spain; grandfather Frost in Russia.....well Ireland did give it a try!
...and Satan in the Bible.
 

anationoceagain

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Well its Father Christmas in England; saint Nicholas in Neterlands; Santa Claus in US of A; Kris Kringle in Germany; Pere Noel in France; Papa Noel in Spain; grandfather Frost in Russia.....well Ireland did give it a try!
Always felt one's pronouncing of "Santa" a good indication of class, culture and possibly political allegiance..

"Santy"....working/lower middle class

"Santa"...celtic tiger yuppies

"Father Christmas"....an Anglo-irish hangover
 

darkknight

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"Finn Varra Maa is coming to town" :shock:

"I saw Momma kissing Finn Varra Maa" :shock::?


I can't see him replacing good old Santa! :cool:
 

Red_93

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Very interesting. The Little man made of hay living in the wilds of Connemara made me smile. It's actually a bit cuter than Santa. Perhaps we could replace the Easter bunny with that lad. The Easter bunny has very little back story...
 

florin

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Is that "Finbar of the plain"? Also, where did he get the idea that Nicholas was Russian?
 
D

Dylan2010

how about a new one, Lennycowen, kids have to buy presents , put them under the tree and they get taken by the Lennycowen and for good measure the kids have to pay interest for 40 years.
 

Red_93

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Is that "Finbar of the plain"? Also, where did he get the idea that Nicholas was Russian?
Think Lapand is in Finland yes? Which, in and around that time, would have been under Russian ownership.
 

Colin M

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how about a new one, Lennycowen, kids have to buy presents , put them under the tree and they get taken by the Lennycowen and for good measure the kids have to pay interest for 40 years.
Ah, but the 'hard decisions' sometimes have to be made.

The playwright, who I have never heard of before, sounds like an extreme Catholic nutter.
 

rockofcashel

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www.sinnfein.ie
Well its Father Christmas in England; saint Nicholas in Neterlands; Santa Claus in US of A; Kris Kringle in Germany; Pere Noel in France; Papa Noel in Spain; grandfather Frost in Russia.....well Ireland did give it a try!
Sinterklaas in Netherlands.. and the Zwarte Pieten... Black Pete, his elves ..
 

NEWN

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Prehaps he should have tried an Irish version of Saint Nick-a man in a Green Bishop's robe with golden Irish Harps called DA Padrig {Father Patrick} on a white steed....{Sorry my knowledge of Ancient Irish is nil}....
 

Little_Korean

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The 'pooping log' of Catalonia was always a favourite of mine:

Tió de Nadal

On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, one puts the tió partly into the fireplace and orders it to "************************" (the fire part of this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many modern homes do not have a fireplace). To make him "************************", one beats him with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.
 

Tea Party Patriot

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Finn Varra Maa - Sounds like a character from a horror movie; no wonder it didn't take off!

 

Conor

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Interesting pub quiz question BTW: which actress meant to have starred in The Spancel of Death in 1916, went on to be nominated for an Oscar? The answer is Sara Allgood, who after working for Nally (or not working for him, in the case of The Spancel of Death) acted in some Hitchcock films before being nominated as best supporting actress for 'How Green is my Valley'. She was beaten by Mary Astor.
Worst pub quiz ever.
 
S

simeongrimes

Always felt one's pronouncing of "Santa" a good indication of class, culture and possibly political allegiance..

"Santy"....working/lower middle class

"Santa"...celtic tiger yuppies

"Father Christmas"....an Anglo-irish hangover
"Santo"..............Dublin Northside
 

feargach

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Knockma Galway Knockma Hill Galway Queen Maeve Finvarra Ireland

Finbheara is a very old figure in Irish mythology, king of the Connacht fairies. Possibly older than Nikolaos of Myra.

The Spanish tradition is that it's the three kings who bring the gifts. It's not exactly clear how the coca-cola emblem is inherently better suited to the task than other mythological entities.

A cynic might even believe that Santa's victory over Finbheara is not entirely unrelated to the fact that the Coca-cola organisation had a slightly bigger publicity budget to the guy who had the notion of Ireland putting a slight spin on the mysterious gift-giving supernatural figure.

John A. Rush, Professor of Anthropology at Sierra College in Rocklin, California, thinks the Santa Claus figure has its origins in Siberian shaman figures using magic mushrooms to talk to the spirits (plenty of shamans in that area today who use various mushrooms and roots to "get into the right frame of mind"). Obviously that's infinitely more suitable for our kids than an Irish otherworld figure. What upstanding, right-thinking parent in Ireland today doesn't want their kids to be obsessed with a psilocybin-induced psychedelic-trance image from the steppes?
 
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