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Local markets have the festive fare wrapped up

WE now have an amazing range of Christmas markets all over the country. These homegrown markets give a lot of people in the food or crafts business the opportunity to raise some extra money this Christmas.

Whether it is food or gifts, local purchases -- be they jars of brandy butter, chutneys, or table decorations -- can make a big difference to people's lives and their Christmas this year. So, if you are thinking of taking off for a little break and a bit of Christmas shopping, why not make it homegrown? The money you spend in the area will help the pubs, hotels, restaurants and retailers, and will go around in many ways.

At the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, from December 8 to January 8, there is the inaugural 7-Up Winter Wonderland, with Ireland's largest covered ice rink, which has a dedicated beginners' rink, so if you fall down, you won't feel such a fool. It also has Le Cirque, a stylish adult circus, and a traditional Christmas Circus for adults and children. An outdoor Continental Christmas Market will be selling Christmas treats from Ireland and the continent, and of course there will be Santa's Christmas Village. So, something for all ages at one beautiful venue. You need to book for ice skating and the Christmas Circus. For details, visit www.7upwinterwonderland.ie.

The Docklands Christmas Market is into its seventh year, and runs from December 8 to December 23, on the George's Dock platform in the CHQ building and surrounding walkways. Back this year is the beautifully restored showpiece 'Galloping Horses' carousel, and other fairground attractions, as well as crafts and foods for adults and children. So think of gorgeous pastries, mince pies, cheeses and more. Carol singers and bands will be on hand on selected days to give a feelgood atmosphere. See www.dda.ie.

At The Square Shopping Centre in Tallaght, there is a German Christmas Market with a collection of up to 50 colourful stalls selling sweets, games, wooden crafted models and toys -- a perfect place to pick up stocking-fillers. It will also have food stalls where you can sample both local foods and those from around the world. Visit www.dublinchristmasmarket.com.

Farmleigh is such a wonderful place for magical Christmas feeling. It has a Christmas Food Market in the farmyard on Saturdays and Sundays from December 3 until December 18, from 10am until 5pm. There will also be storytelling for children in the Old Kitchen. The Custard Pie Puppet Company presents The Witch in the Wood in the Cowshed Theatre, there will be carol singing in the ballroom, barbershop melodies outdoors, and carriage rides. www.farmleigh.ie.

From December 9 to January 8 from 11am to 8pm, Dun Laoghaire town centre will be transformed with a first-ever Christmas Festival, which will include a fireworks display. Santa will arrive on a Harley Davidson on December 19, just in time to give a wave to the little ones before the fireworks display on Harbour Plaza. At the Metals, and on Marine Road, there will be German-style wooden chalets where you can browse through hand-crafted gifts, decorations, bags and jewellery, plus lots of artisan foods including seasonal stews, gourmet crepes, and bratwurst BBQs. There will be a Winter Wonderland at the Metals and you can try the climbing wall or have a go on the carousel. There will also be a festival train to take you to see the lights, and a live crib in St Michael's Church. See www.dlharbour.ie.

The Galway Continental Christmas Market in Eyre Square was a phenomenal success last year. This year's market kicked off last weekend, and runs to December 18. There are more than 70 wooden chalets filled with festive goodies from local and European traders. The Christmas Market Big Top is the new focal point of the celebrations, with daily demonstrations and interactive workshops such as cheese- and wine-tasting classes and fashion shows to get people into the Christmas spirit. Along with gifts and fashion, the market will feature a selection of food from around the world including gluhwein, German pretzel, Polish sausages and Belgian macaroons. Santa's Grotto is there too and he has brought Mrs Claus with him. A visit to Santa is €8 including gift. Proceeds from Santa's Grotto will support the work of both Enable Ireland and Childline in Galway. You don't need a sleigh to get there: the new motorway to Galway has you into the city in a couple of hours from Dublin. www.galwaychristmasmarket.ie.

They are a great bunch of enterprising people in Killarney. This is their seventh year running 'Christmas in Killarney' and, along with Christmas markets on Main Street which are on the three weekends leading up to Christmas, they have jaunting car sleigh rides through the streets. The cost is €10 for two adults and two children. Pre-book on info@killarneyjauntingcars.ie or telephone (064) 6633358.

In addition, they have a series of Dine in Killarney restaurant nights with participating restaurants offering a special three-course menu at €20. They also have the 12 Pubs of Christmas Weekends, which includes a dozen pubs offering drinks specials at €3. Another fun event is the Christmas Singles Traffic Light Disco on December 21 in The Killarney Grand where you might find love under the mistletoe. On arrival at the Killarney Grand, you will be painted red if you're in a relationship and not looking for someone, orange if you might be looking for someone. . . and green if you're single and definitely looking for someone! www.christmasinkillarney.com.

Kilkenny will be iced over again this Christmas or, to be more precise, the Ice Rink at Cillin Hill, on the Dublin Road, will be in full swing from December 3 to January 22. The Kilkenny Ice Express will run every hour on the hour from The Parade and will return on the half hour during opening times. www.kilkennyonice.com.

Kilkenny's Christmas Fair will be at the new Parade Plaza, in the shadow of Kilkenny Plaza, from December 10-12 and 15-23, showcasing the best artisan food, craft and distinctive giftware that the south east has to offer. Younger visitors can call into Santa's Grotto while parents enjoy some warming fare in the Food Court. Take a trip, too, on the city's special Christmas road train. Hotels in the city have good breaks for Christmas shopping, including Hotel Kilkenny which offers two nights and two evening meals, a Swedish massage or deep tissue massage from €195pps. www.kilkennytourism.ie.

Down at the fabulous Mount Juliet Hotel in Thomastown, as part of its Christmas Village at Mount Juliet, there is a Christmas market in the Hunters Yard running from next Sunday to Friday, December 23 from noon to 8pm. Mount Juliet's executive chef, Cormac Rowe, and his team will be providing fabulous homemade produce including Christmas puddings, Christmas cakes, hampers, and gingerbread men. They will also be doing cookery demonstrations and offering barbecued food and wines at the 'Tastes of Mount Juliet' stall. The estate will be decorated throughout to create a real Winter Wonderland, and admission is free.

There will also be some 40 stalls, with local food tastings including the supreme champion at the British Cheese awards, Knockdrinna farmhouse cheese, as well as Goatsbridge trout farm, Highbank organic orchards, the Gallic Kitchen and Jane Beer interior decorator, with her cool Christmas decorations, fab chilli jams, and high fashion shoes. Make a night of it as Mount Juliet is doing a Christmas Village Overnight Stay at €69.50pps. www.mountjuliet.ie.

In Limerick, the Christmas market runs at Milk Market from Thursdays to Sundays until Christmas Eve, plus all of Christmas week. There will be art, crafts, jewellery, antiques, vintage clothes, hampers and artisan food gifts. You can also visit Santa at his workshop. www.milkmarketlimerick.ie.

And lastly to wonderful Cork, where, for the fourth year, the Grand Parade will be transformed into a Cork Christmas Celebration. On weekends up to Christmas and midweek in Christmas week up to December 21, from 10am to 8pm, the Grand Parade will be a haven of Irish and international craft and food stalls, with all sorts of goodies, including Catkin wicker baskets and silver and glass jewellery from Gloine Mhaire, made locally in Cork with eco-friendly packaging. Ollie's Chestnuts will be there as well as Hans Frankenfurter and O'Flynn's sausages. Mamukko from Kinsale will also be there with artisan handmade designer bags made from recycled sailcloth.

Bishop Lucey Park is being transformed into an illuminated park. The theme is Christmas Wishes and prepare to be mesmerised as you enter the wonderful world of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-inspired garden with gingerbread men, chocolate log cabins and snowball shrubbery under a Van Gogh-inspired starry night. www.corkcity.ie.

Ooooooh, I'm hanging up my handknit Irish stocking already!


Sunday Independent