'All for one. . .' ethos at friendly market
A rural co-op offers artists and growers a great outlet for their wares, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
Every Saturday morning in Bunclody a group of dedicated ladies gather to sell their food and artistic produce at the Slaney Country Market.
Bunclody is a very picturesque town in North Co Wexford, on the Carlow border. It is an area which always reminds me of Germany's Black Forest region with its wonderful trees and woods, and it is very popular with people who enjoy walking and fishing as it is on the banks of the River Slaney and in the shadows of Mount Leinster.
The Slaney Country Market is located in the Old Barracks, a beautiful Georgian building, right on the square in the centre of the town, with very convenient parking in front. The country market concept differs from that of the currently popular farmers' markets in that it is a co-op. All of the artists and producers are present, but they do not sell their produce individually. Nobody pushes their own stuff, no names appear, all of the produce is sold together, with each producer's items carrying an identification number, and it is a more 'one for all and all for one' ethos.
At the end of the month each member gets a cheque for their produce. Country Markets Ltd (www.countrymarkets.ie) was founded in 1946 by the Irish Homespun Society and the Irish Countrywomen's Association with the objective, by co-operative means, of marketing good, fresh quality farm, garden, home produce, and traditional crafts, using natural resources, aiming to enhance in a small way the family income. There are now 60 branches around the country.
Helga Faiers Mullen was an instigator in setting up the Slaney branch, and she has an interesting Flemish Huguenot background. Her ancestors came to England in the 17th Century as silk weavers, with her great great grandfather later moving to Ireland. Helga and her husband, Willie, downsized a few years ago to Kildavin, which they love. However, there was no shop in Kildavin village so Helga called a public meeting to see if they could set up a branch of Irish Country Markets, which they later moved to Bunclody.
"We opened on Valentine's Day 2009 and 'Love your Area, Love your Country Market' was our slogan. Ten per cent of the sales is retained by the market. If you make a soda bread for €1 you can charge €2 for it so the market retains 20c of that towards our rent, so you can imagine our funds are very limited. We also give to St Vincent de Paul at Christmas, and in the summer we have a community BBQ giving profits, usually to our local hospice. This summer a wildlife garden was created in Kildavin where a former ball alley had been demolished, and we paid for all the cobblestones. So we give a lot to charity.
I joined the ladies sitting around the community tea table, which is just such a sociable experience. Tea is €2.
"A lot of the food is donated so we keep the tea money towards our ESB bill. We have great craic," says Jan Beer, interior designer, who also makes a wonderful range of chilli jams and conserves, brownies and cookies. "It's all about friendship -- any excuse to get together." Kathleen Ryan produces wonderful vegetables grown in Kildavin.
"Some women are sending their children to piano lessons with what they make; it may only be about €40 a month for some, but it is the overall experience and friendship," says Helga.
There are good news stories from here too. People move on to do bigger things as a result of being here. Helga was formerly secretary of the branch and helped set it up, but now just drops in every week as she is writing a book about growing up in Dublin in the Fifties and Sixties. "My father was a Protestant, and my mother was a Catholic. I was brought up as a Catholic in a Protestant household and in the Sixties that was huge. My grandmother was a great
character. She never got over the fact that her only son married a Catholic."
Marigold Tuazon is from the Philippines and living in nearby Tullow, Co Carlow. She is a biochemist, but with a four-year-old daughter she is a stay-at-home mom at the moment. However, she makes wonderfully cute and pretty little hairclips, hairbands and slides, using Petersham ribbon, priced from €3.50/€4. They are just so artistic, little black and amber bumble bees, red and black ladybirds, butterflies, floral, and funky.
Rachel Gilsenan does wonderful imaginative knitting. "I started knitting when my sister had a baby and I did some things for her." There was a really gorgeous teddy bear priced at €12 and a little elephant at €8, hats, scarves, amazing little blankets for €10, all beautifully detailed and which would make wonderful Christmas and christening presents. They also have handmade cards produced by Grace Dunbar, Stephanie Murphy and Rebecca Homfrey.
Rebecca is originally from Kent but has lived in Ireland for 23 years. She is an amazing printmaker who also does botanical water colours.
Her work is quite exquisite, from her Thieving Magpie to her Fighting Cock, I wanted to buy them all. Some of these large-scale limited edition prints were only €100. "The printing and the painting I took up later in life. I always loved it at school but then didn't do anything for ages. I started the painting first and then joined the Leinster Printmaking Studio in Clane. That has been great and I have been going great guns ever since."
Rebecca's work features in a gorgeous book of recipes and drawings called Plate to Plate from the Leinster Printmaking Studio. Rebecca's work sells now all over the world: "It is so easy to put them into an envelope and send them off." Her take on the Sacred Heart was fascinating. "Coming to Ireland and seeing all those Sacred Heart pictures in houses all over the place was new to me. I was a bit taken aback because everyone used to talk about the Aztecs and the brutality, but then you see those pictures of Jesus with his heart exposed and you think there is not very much difference."
Margaret Dunbar is Chairperson of Slaney Country Market. She took up cross-stitching in 1995 when she was confined to bed through illness. "My sister-in-law bought me a kit and I just started from there and then I did tapestry." There was the most amazing cushion with an Egyptian figure, all handmade and beautiful, for just €25.
These crafts are truly a labour of love and something to be snapped up. "The beauty of this type of work," Margaret says, "is that it is light and you can carry your sampler with you as you work."
The Christmas market is now running at Slaney Country Market on Saturday mornings from 10am to 1pm -- get there early. You will find wonderful homemade breads of all varieties, including Polish bread by Dana Tunkun, who also does dressmaking and sells wonderful willow baskets made by her family in Poland. There are cakes, jams, honey, marmalade, chilli jam, preserves, pretty aprons, handmade cards, prints, watercolours, knitted toys, vegetables, and many other really special and inexpensive Christmas gifts.