A hint of magic in the air at Ireland’s Christmas markets

In need of a break from the frantic pace of neon-lit shopping centres? Kelly O’Brien looks at the rising trend of traditional Christmas markets featuring festive fun and finger-licking food

A hint of magic in the air at Ireland’s Christmas markets

THE soft tones of carol singers floating on the crisp winter air, the mixture of delicious smells wafting from the stalls of cheerful food vendors, and rosy-cheeked children eagerly awaiting their turn to see Santa — nothing says Christmas more than a good market.

From the biggest of festivals to the smallest of weekend winter wonderlands, whether it’s bratwurst you’re after or some local handmade gifts, here are some of Ireland’s best markets.

Glow: A Cork Christmas Celebration (to December 21)

The Christmas market on Grand Parade is a hive of festivity every yuletide as throngs of merrymakers wander from stall to stall, sampling a variety of culinary delights along the way.

Mulled wine and gourmet sausages abound, but there’s an arts and crafts element as well, not to mention the spectacular transformation of Bishop Lucey Park.

Last year, the park turned into a magical village called Tír na Nollaig — a fairy woodland with lights, forest creatures, and larger-than-life toy soldiers.

This year, the park features a Night Before Christmas theme, visitors wandering through a 3D version of the book and interacting with real-life characters.

Kids can post their letters straight to Santa from the park, which is open 4pm to 7pm Friday to Sunday for the duration of the festival.

One of the most exciting treats of Glow is the 30m ferris wheel which dominates Grand Parade for most of December, providing the backdrop for many a festive selfie.

Presented by Cork City Council, Glow is expected to draw more than 150,000 people to the city centre.

Council spokeswoman Valerie O’Sullivan called the celebration a “must-see”.

“[It] is a spectacular Christmas event and is set to be a great occasion with a host of fun activities for the while family to take part in,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

Winterval, Waterford (to December 31, closed December 24-26)

More than just a market, Waterford’s Winterval is a full-blown Christmas celebration.

The city is hosting 32 events for the festival this year — the majority of these free of charge.

Festival chairman Barry Monaghan said Winterval has gone from strength to strength since it was launched in 2012.

“From day one, the festival team wanted to deliver a Christmas experience which was on par with what is on offer across Europe,” said Mr Monaghan. “We believe that Winterval has achieved this and now continues to deliver new opportunities for our visitors.”

He also revealed the impact the festival has had on Waterford as a prime Christmas destination.

“If visitors are inclined to spend even half what the average spend figure was in 2013, the city is on track for an economic impact of over €14m and this will have a major impact for Waterford.”

The main draws of the event this year including ice-skating on the quay, taking in the sights from the ferris wheel, and a magic show from Winterval Ambassador Keith Barry.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to Santa’s Grotto, while adults can enjoy various gastronomic delights at the food stalls and take a cosy trip through the city on a horse-drawn sleigh.

Christmas Market at St Stephens Green, Dublin (to December 22)

This year, the capital’s city centre plays host to its very first traditional Christmas market.

While markets have previously been held at the Docklands and in Merrion Square, this is the first to be held amid the hustle and bustle of the heart of Dublin. It’s open from 12pm to 8pm.

More than 60 stalls, nestled along the exterior of St Stephen’s Green between Grafton St and Merrion Row, waft with seasonal smells, from bratwurst and crepes to glühwein and chocolate fountains.

And for those yet to do their Christmas shopping, the market also offers a wide selection of Irish handmade items such as jewellery, woodcraft, jams, and preserves.

In the first 15 days since the market opened, 340,000 people have visited, and footfall is up by 10% in the Grafton St area.

Galway Continental Christmas Market (to December 22)

Galway is the place to be this year if you’re after a Christmas market with a difference.

Set in the spacious city centre location of Eyre Square, 50 traders from all over Ireland and Europe pack the plaza, showcasing their wares in a traditional, continental-style gathering.

All kinds of foods are on offer from British pastries and corn dogs to Dutch pancakes and chimney cakes. Craft stalls offer all kinds of homemade gifts, and a German beer tent can be found at the heart of the market, serving up the very best Bavarian brews.

Carol singers provide a festive element to proceedings, while storytelling sessions, an express train, and a trip to Santa’s Grotto will keep the kids amused.

Return visitors will notice a reshuffling of the market, with many stalls now located on the hard-surface plaza and the Windmill House now in the centre of the square. The main stage now faces the plaza and will feature bands, choirs, and other performers.

Organiser Maria Moynihan Lee said the fair is bigger than ever and features more of an emphasis on craft compared to last year.

“We are full, all the stalls are occupied, we really couldn’t get much bigger unless we put in two storeys,” said Ms Moynihan Lee.

Belfast Continental Christmas Market (to December 21)

Belfast’s award-winning Continental Christmas Market celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, as more than 80,000 visitors flock to the festive stalls to celebrate a decade of delight.

The city has fast become a prime destination for yuletide merrymakers from across the island.

Each year, the grounds of City Hall transform into a traditional, continental-style market full to the brim with seasonal food and gifts.

More than 80 wooden chalets offer the usual fare of German bratwurst, French crepes, and Belgian chocolates, while unusual delicacies such as ostrich, wild boar, and crocodile burgers catering for the more adventurous.

Opening the market, Lord Mayor of Belfast Nichola Mallon highlighted how important it is to the city.

“It’s absolutely brilliant. Santa has landed in the grotto and there’s a long line of children who just can’t wait to get in to see him. The market creates an amazing buzz around the city centre. At all times of day people are in and it’s very busy. The smell of food is amazing.”

Christmas at the Milk Market, Limerick (December 12-14 and 17-24)

A staple of life in Limerick, the city’s weekly Milk Market turns its hand to Christmas cheer for the festive season.

Boasting a little something for everyone, shoppers can feast themselves on artisan foods as they pick their way through the stalls, protected from the elements by an overarching canopy.

Milk Market manager David O’Brien said he was excited about the festivities this year, now that the market was bigger than ever.

“With so many shoppers visiting and buying, it will be a great opportunity for new traders who wish to sell their produce directly to the consumer,” said Mr O’Brien.

Limerick native Colm Fitzgerald said the market has gone from strength to strength in recent years.

“The atmosphere is just fantastic, there’s a real sense of Christmas walking around the place and taking in all the lovely smells from food vendors,” he said.

“It’s a great event for Limerick as well, it’s nice to have something like this to bring people to the city.”

Christmas Spraoi in Tralee, Kerry (December 13 and 14)

Christmas Spraoi in Tralee kicked off at the weekend, with Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh switching on the town’s Christmas lights on Saturday.

A 34-day festival of fun and merriment, Spraoi features an exciting calendar of events for all the family — from grotto visits to the 5k Santa Fun Run.

Festive music will fill the air as carol singers take to The Square for charity, while Manor West plays host to the Taste Kerry Food Fair.

CEO of Tralee Chamber Alliance, Kieran Ruttledge, said over €30,000 will be spent this year on music, lights, and the promotion of Tralee as a top Christmas destination.

“Christmas is when most people push the boat out in treating the family, relatives, work colleagues and friends with gifts, presents and social occasions,” said Mr Ruttledge. “Tralee Chamber Alliance is proud to push the boat out to make it memorable and profitable for businesses, local charities, and the wider community.

“Free on-street parking and in Kerry County Council car parks from 1pm daily for the entire month of December will help make a trip to Tralee the perfect day and night out this Christmas.”

Markets across the country:

Carlow

Christmas Art, Craft and Food Fair in Carlow Town. December 8 to 21.

Clare:

Ennis Craft Christmas Fair. December 14.

Dublin:

Docklands Christmas Festival. December 12 to 23.

Kilkenny:

Christmas Village at Mount Juliet. December 4 to 23.

Sligo:

Strandhill People’s Market at Christmas, Sligo Airport. December 14 and 21.

Tipperary:

Christmas Craft and Food Fair, Clonmel. December 14.

Westmeath:

Mullingar Christmas Market. December 19 to 21.

Wexford:

Christmas Craft and Gift Fair at Wexford Arts Centre. December 5 to 24.

Wicklow:

Killruddery Farm Christmas Markets. December 13, 14, 20 and 21.

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