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Sunday 11 December 2016

A home from home for Country Markets

Getting ever stronger, the locally run cooperatives are gelling communities together with interests in homegrown products

Published 17/08/2010 | 05:00

Brigid Osborne, Margaret Nolan, Dick Roche, Scott Egan and Rebecca Egan take part in the Askea country market, which currently has 16
members - and is continuing to grow
Brigid Osborne, Margaret Nolan, Dick Roche, Scott Egan and Rebecca Egan take part in the Askea country market, which currently has 16 members - and is continuing to grow

Stepping into Brigid Osborne's kitchen in Rathvilly, Co Carlow, the senses are assailed by the welcoming smell of home baking.

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Although her kitchen is very much the heart of the family home she shares with her daughter Breeda, son-in-law Eoin Woulfe and their children, for the past eight years it's also been her place of work.

That's how long Brigid has been a member of Country Markets through her local branch in Askea in Carlow town.

In preparation for the Friday morning market, her kitchen is a hive of activity, where she prepares the fresh loaves she brings to the market.

Gluten- and wheat-free breads, rye and spelt loaves are just some of the specialities she prepares each week. Now, with a regular list of customers, local doctors and health food specialists often recommend her to patients with special dietary requirements.

However, as Brigid explains, the selling is only one part of this national cooperative organisation, which has been on the go since 1947.

Brigid first got involved when she found herself at a crossroads in her life. Following the death of her husband Michael in 1992, she says she spent 10 lonely years adjusting to how her life had changed.

"When my husband died I was left out on a limb as regards having something to do. I had had a busy life rearing my family," she says.

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"Michael had been confined to a wheelchair for the last 10 years of his life, though he still lived it to the full."

Although kept busy with her family and a growing number of grandchildren -- she now has seven -- she was keen to develop another interest. Eventually it was a notice in the local paper that grabbed her attention.

"CANDO (a local development organisation) put a notice in the paper saying they were starting a country market in Carlow, so I went along to that first meeting."

Now the national press officer, she says Country Markets has been an important part of her life ever since.

"It's such an outlet for friendship and companionship, and pen money of course," she says.

"I love the bringing together of the whole thing and bringing the market idea forward in the 21st century."

With more than 63 markets throughout the country in almost every county, Country Markets has been experiencing somewhat of a revival in the past 18 months.

"During the 'Celtic Tiger' years, there was a recession in country markets," Brigid says.

"All the homemakers were out working and their children were in the creche.

"But then when the downturn came, they were back in the home looking for some other way to enhance their income as well as trying to get to know people in the area.

"I suppose people who get involved are looking for two things -- an income and a sense of community."

Country Markets was born out of an idea by Dr Muriel Gahan, who opened a shop in St Stephen's Green, Dublin, in 1947, specialising in rural crafts.

Dr Gahan then joined forces with Olivia Hughes, both of whom had an interest in traditional crafts and shared a vision of establishing a market place in rural Ireland where traditional crafts and home baking would be available.

Active

The first Country Market was set up in Fethard, Co Wexford, in 1947 and one of its founding members, Hannie Leahy, is still active in it today.

"Principally, the people who make the produce are homemakers," Brigid says.

"Everything is local and has no carbon footprint. It's all wholesome, healthy food.

"The markets usually take place in parish centres or community halls. Some go outside for a few days in the summertime, but this is only to promote themselves and let people know they're there."

Brigid points out that Country Markets is not to be confused with farmers' markets, which have mushroomed around the country in recent years.

She explains the main difference is that Country Market members don't make a living from what they sell and their rules state that everything on offer has to have been produced in the area.

They also have a logo, a 'brannra' or iron griddle, distinguishing it from other markets.

"Country Markets is a cooperative, which means that every member is involved.

"Regional representatives serve on the board of management and each member of the board serves for four years. The board comes together bimonthly for meetings in Dublin.

"All branches have an input and if they're not happy they can bring their issue to notice."

Brigid is also chairperson of the Askea group, which currently has 16 members and meets each Friday morning in the parish centre.

Apart from Brigid's bread, other items on offer include confectionery, savouries such as quiches, lasagnes and pizzas, free-range eggs, soft fruits, cheese, preserves and jellies, garden produce, plants and cut flowers.

They also offer traditional craft items such as knitted garments, crochet and wood turning.

"We don't make a living from it. It's all about surplus from the garden or the kitchen, and surplus time.

"There's no investment either and this is what makes it attractive for many people.

"The co-op covers the insurance and takes a small levy from members to cover that.

"The size of the groups around the country varies and some of it is seasonal. Markets range in size from six members to about 20.

"We have a wide range of ages and experiences, and people with very young families to retired people."

Recently they've also become involved with Carlow Tourism and Failte Ireland in an initiative to promote Duckett's Grove walled gardens and pleasure grounds outside the town.

Members of the group will be serving tea and refreshments at the gardens on Sunday afternoons from 12 noon to 5pm for the remainder of the summer.

Beautiful

"We get visitors from as far away as Bray and Greystones who come to admire the beautiful Victorian gardens.

"Admission is free, and we only charge €2 for a cup of tea and a piece of cake, so we don't rob anyone!" she laughs.

Country Markets also supports local charities in the area and last year raised €11,000 nationally for cancer research.

The number of markets around the country has swelled in the past 18 months, with two more having opened so far this year in Mulranny and Kilclooney, Co Mayo, while Baltra Country Market in Co Sligo was expected to start up last month.

The movement always welcomes new members once they are offering something that's not already covered by an existing member. The main criteria are that it has to be made, baked or grown locally.

"There's always something that is not available so anyone should drop into a local market and just have a look," Brigid says.

Country Markets was also represented at this year's Tullamore Show, so people could drop by and find out where the nearest market is located in their area -- something Brigid highly recommends.

"When Askea Country Markets was first formed, none of us knew each other but now we look forward to meeting every week for the chat.

"I really don't know what I'd have done without Country Markets," she says.

For information on joining a market or opening a new market, contact Country Markets, DMG Building, 9-13 Blackhall Place, Dublin 7, telephone 01 799 4534, email contact@countrymarkets.ie or visit www.countrymarkets.ie

Irish Independent



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