Set out your stall for the Christmas festival experience

All across the country, thousands of rosy-cheeked revellers are delighting in the festive cheer of Christmas markets. Kelly O’Brien takes us through the best the country has to offer.

FROM craft beer to carol singers, gingerbread men to sizzling bratwurst, there’s nothing quite like the buzz of a Christmas market.

Every year, they spring up right across the country, delighting those daring enough to force their extremities out into the blistering cold.

World-weary parents can be seen shepherding their bundled-up offspring through the crowds while shoppers search for the perfect last-minute gift and young lovers stroll hand in hand under glowing fairy lights.

But while there will be hustle, bustle, and an overabundance of arts, crafts, and fast food stalls, no two markets are exactly the same.

Whether it’s a 30m-high Ferris wheel or authentic horse-drawn sleigh rides, each celebration is entirely unique.

Glow

A Cork Christmas Celebration, November 25 to December 18

Considering that no all- encompassing yuletide celebration will be taking place in Dublin this year, the Rebel County definitely seems like the place to be this December.

The annual Glow festival has just kicked off on Leeside, and this year it’s bigger and better than ever.

As per usual, the 30m-high Ferris wheel is one of the main attractions — its great, hulking mass can be seen towering over the library on Grand Parade, enticing even the grumpiest of Grinches to climb on board.

For those with a devil-may-care attitude, the wheel is a festive treat — a place to have an intimate chat or to spin your individual pod as fast as it can go.

For the more reserved riders, it is a place to conquer fears and experience the thrill of seeing Cork City from an unparalleled height.

Smaller children, however, may prefer something a bit closer to Earth. A vintage carousel has set up shop at the base of the big wheel, offering all the festive fun of an authentic carnival.

Take a trip into the adjacent Bishop Lucey Park, and children will be greeted with an even more wondrous spectacle.

For the last number of years, various street festival companies have transformed the park into a winter wonderland — and a different one each year, no less.

This time around, the park has the very unexpected theme of Narnia. The concept was created by Footsteps, a company that specialises in theatrical interpretation.

They have turned the park into the mythical land which is the setting for renowned author CS Lewis’s popular series The Chronicles of Narnia. Interestingly, this land itself already had Corkonian roots — Lewis’s parents were themselves from Cork.

With costumed characters, mythical beasts, and mystical music, park-goers will be transported to Narnia as soon as they step beyond the gates.

Apart from the wheel, carousel, and the magical park experience, Glow also, of course, includes myriad festive craft and food stalls, all run by local traders.

Last year, more than 150,000 people sampled their goods, and representatives from both Cork City Council and Cork Business Association are hoping for an even bigger footfall this time around considering the knock-on effect from an influx of visitors is estimated to be worth roughly €7m to local restaurateurs, hoteliers, and traders.

To cater for the extra footfall in the city during the Christmas period, additional parking spaces have been made available at a temporary Park & Ride at County Hall. North Main Street Car Park, Paul Street Car Park, and the Black Ash Park & Ride are also extending their opening times.

Glow runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until December 18. During these days, the market will open from 12pm until 8.30pm and the park will open from 4.30pm to 8.30pm.

The Ferris wheel will operate from 12pm to 9pm every day apart from Christmas Day, from now until January 8.

For more information, go to glowcork.ie.

Winterval

Waterford, until December 23

Matilda Balfe, aged 5, from Dublin is one over 200,000 people who travelled from all over Ireland to visit Winterval Festival in Waterford. Picture: Dylan Vaughan
Matilda Balfe, aged 5, from Dublin is one over 200,000 people who travelled from all over Ireland to visit Winterval Festival in Waterford. Picture: Dylan Vaughan

Every Christmas for the last five years, Winterval has been turning Waterford into a veritable hive of activity.

Despite its young years, the celebration has already attracted more than half a million visitors and has quickly become the county’s biggest annual event. Organisers estimate the occasion equates to a €12m boost for the local economy.

One of the unique aspects of Winterval is the novel idea of offering punters rides in a horse-drawn sleigh.

Picking up at The Mall outside Waterford Crystal, majestic Shire horses take passengers on a “magical” tour of the city, including stop-offs at the Viking Triangle and John Roberts Square.

While children undoubtedly love this particular trek, they will fall head over heels for the Winterval Express Train.

This blindingly bright locomotive can be seen winding its way through the city’s more historic streets. It picks up passengers at John Roberts Square and takes them on a half-hour journey past some of the main Winterval attractions: Santa’s Giant Postbox, the carousel, the market, and the Ferris wheel.

In terms of free events, Winterval Illuminates is always a big crowd-pleaser.

Every day of the festival, on Cathedral Square, a huge public light show takes place every half-hour from 5pm to 8pm.

Organisers say this year’s show is the best yet, complete with “lots of new features and 3D animation”.

Echoing successes in Cork, Winterval also features a carousel, located at John Roberts Square, and a Ferris wheel, located on The Mall.

As ever, more than 60 stallholders showcase their wares at markets on Cathedral Square, Arundel Square, and at Bishop’s Palace.

Market-goers are treated to the stomach-growlingly good smells of international food, burgers, and steamy hot chocolate.

Those in search of unique handcrafted items are also catered for.

For more information, go to winterval.ie.

Galway Christmas Market

Until December 22

The Galway Christmas Market provides some of the most stunning, and festive, aerial photos and drone footage of the Christmas period.

It’s easy to see why the pictures and videos have been so popular online — Eyre Square is transformed into a magical yuletide village in its own right, boasting thousands of lights illuminating wooden chalets brimming with crafts, toys, jewellery, cosmetics, decorations, and stocking fillers.

More than 50 stalls stretch right across Eyre Square.

As ever, the market has a diverse and continental food element — the bratwurst are back, of course, while foodies can also tuck into French pastries, crepes, waffles, American pretzels, and a wide range of confectionary.

A German beer tent can be found at the heart of the market, serving up steins of the very best Bavarian brews while revellers can also choose to keep the cold at bay by sipping on some hot chocolate or mulled wine.

Visitors are encouraged to hop aboard the Santa Express train to discover all the festive sights of the city, to climb on top of the 32m-high Ferris wheel, or to load their children onto one of the many vintage carousels dotted around the area.

The ever-popular Santa’s postbox is back, as is Santa himself, while a number of local choirs and musicians provide live entertainment.

This year the park is lit up like never before, with lighting installations throughout, and a special ‘light garden’ featuring giant luminous baubles and gingerbread men.

Last year, the market attracted more than 350,000 visitors, generating a direct economic impact in excess of €10m.

Organisers are hoping for a similarly fruitful year this time around.

For more information, go to galwaychristmasmarket.ie.

Limerick Milk Market Christmas Market

Until December 23

More than 4,000 people thronged the streets of Limerick last month to mark the start of a five-week-long yuletide celebration.

As part of the opening festivities, the city’s Christmas lights were officially switched on by a two-year-old local boy who miraculously survived a sixth-storey balcony fall earlier this year.

Little Neil Shanahan and his parents were special guests at the event, with the toddler helping Mayor Kieran O’Hanlon turn on the Light Up Limerick display on O’Connell St.

With the welcome addition of snow cannons and pyrotechnics, the ceremony marked the starting point for Christmas in Limerick.

As ever, a very special market takes place in the Milk Market, which has been a staple of life in Limerick since 1852.

This special Christmas edition of the popular market runs for ten days up until Christmas Eve and features up to 60 stalls and shops, all packed with a wide range of food, craft, gifts, and stocking fillers.

Foodies can feast their eyes, as well as their bellies, on mince pies, puddings, ham chestnuts, and brandy butter while entertainment takes the form of local musicians and choirs.

Meanwhile, a food and craft fair takes place at the Hunt Museum from December 8-11, while Santa’s Post Box is located on Bedford Row.

“Limerick is really the place to be right now in so many respects. It’s a great start to what is going to perhaps be the busiest Christmas ever in Limerick,” said Mr O’Hanlon.

Limerick Chamber chief executive James Ring said people will definitely get an air of “celebration” in the city this year, while Laura Ryan from Limerick City and County Council marketing said the city is going through a “real renaissance” right now.

“In keeping with that, the council is investing more heavily than ever in turning it into one of the top Christmas playgrounds in the country this year,” she said.

“Christmas has always been special in Limerick and this year it will be more than ever with an open invitation for all to come and enjoy.”

For more information, go to limerick.ie/christmas

Christmas Spraoi

Tralee, Co Kerry, until December 31

“Well Santa, what do you think of Tralee?” That was the question posed by Kerry sport star Kieran Donaghy at the launch of this year’s Christmas Spraoi in Tralee festival.

The tongue-in-cheek inquiry represents everything you need to know about this madcap Kingdom-based celebration which includes office chair racing, a Santa fun run, and Christmas Day swims.

A constant highlight on the festive calendar, this celebration boasts a number of events you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

There will also be fireworks displays, entertainment, markets, pantomime, and party nights.

Carol singing at Manor West is a must, of course, as are visits to Santa at the Playdium.

The Square plays host to a Christmas Food Market from 11.30am to 5pm daily from December 21 to 23.

“Our message is clear — support local businesses when spending money on gifts or entertainment this Christmas,” said John Drummey, president of Tralee Chamber Alliance.

He particularly welcomed the recent decision by councillors in Tralee Municipal District to offer free parking on-street and in council car parks from 1pm daily from today until January 7.

“We realise that this is a crucial time of year for retailers while the provision of free parking offers shoppers another great reason to spend money in Tralee,” said Mayor of Tralee Cllr Terry O’Brien.

“But we are also asking motorists to park responsibly in town. Please consider the consequences of abandoning a car on double-yellow lines or in a junction box to run a small errand. It simply causes traffic jams, costs retailers money, and above all, it’s dangerous.”

For more information, go to tralee.ie.

Kilkenny Yulefest

Until December 24

Sophie Callery, aged 4, and her sister Aoibhe, aged 8, from Kilkenny City get into the Christmas spirit by enjoying the launch of YuleFest Kilkenny in Butler House. Picture: Pat Moore
Sophie Callery, aged 4, and her sister Aoibhe, aged 8, from Kilkenny City get into the Christmas spirit by enjoying the launch of YuleFest Kilkenny in Butler House. Picture: Pat Moore

One of the country’s newest Christmas celebrations, Yulefest is being billed as “an enchanting festival of music, food, craft, and entertainment”.

While the merrymaking takes place throughout December, events mostly take place on the three main weekends.

There is a Winter Wonderland at Butler House Gardens, across from Kilkenny Castle, and a magical Christmas Experience at MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre.

The ever-popular Kilkenny on Ice is back again this year, while there is also an enchanted forest event at Castlecomer Discovery Park.

In terms of markets, Rothe House will feature some beautiful designs at its annual craft market, while an artisan food market is located across the road at the courthouse.

“From Santa experiences to toy soldiers to Cartoon Saloon workshops and movie screenings, there are delights for kids of all ages,” said a festival spokesperson.

“There are celebrations and events taking place throughout the county with featured lighting to help spread the festive glow!”

Most impressively, the festival also features a jampacked programme of live music. Critically acclaimed singer Lisa Hannigan is set to perform in St Canice’s Cathedral (December 22), while Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Cormac Begley play in St John’s Priory (December 15) .

For more information, go to www.yulefestkilkenny.ie.

Designer Dublin Christmas Market for SVP

December 9 and 10

Due to the inconvenient locations of ongoing Luas works, Dublin City Council has decided not to hold a big outdoor market this Christmas.

Unlike in previous years, there will be no celebrations at either Stephen’s Green or George’s Dock. However, a number of smaller celebrations are going ahead.

Dublin’s designer market, for example, located in the Bank of Ireland forecourt on College Green, is fast becoming a staple of the season.

Now in its fifth year, the market is a collaboration between the city’s Local Enterprise Office, Plato Dublin, and Bank of Ireland.

Though entry is free, all the stallholder fees go directly to the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

More than 30 retailers will be selling unique handmade gifts and crafts and authentic Irish-made fashion, jewellery, art, furniture, and ceramics.

The market will run from 10am to 5pm on Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10.

For more information, email dublin@plato.ie.

Dublin Christmas Flea Market

December 9-11

The Dublin Flea Market was established in 2008. A special Christmas edition will take place at the Point Village next weekend.

Punters can expect the traditional flea market experience but with a more festive atmosphere.

More than 100 traders are expected to feature in the event, showcasing wares such as vintage furniture, handmade crafts, and unique odds and ends and bits and bobs. There will also be a number of food stalls in operation.

The market will run from 12pm to 7pm on Friday, December 9, and from 11am to 6pm the next two days.

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