Lamhdhoanta by Devine had her Christmas Gnomes and her granddaughters up to see her in Collinstown to help her sell her cute ornaments. Mia O’Reilly, Bernadette Devine and Rosie O’Connor.

Competing with giants – how communities are choosing local

By Una D’Arcy

Milk for Santa was one of the hundreds of items available for sale at the November market in Collinstown. Stall holders, all from north Westmeath, laid out artisan breads, handmade dolls, free-range eggs, freshly-made quiche, aprons, reindeer, jewellery, waffles, wreaths, Christmas trees, Christmas cakes, Christmas gnomes, sweets, treats, wooden bowls and resin earrings.

It was a powerful thing to wander around, listening to the stories of the stalls, the work of the stallholders and the compliments of the community choosing local over the global retail giants that dominate Christmas.

Paddy Dempsey made a few boxes of jam, a handful of flavours from the fruits growing in his garden back in 2017. They were for the Christmas market in Collinstown. Now Paddy is growing fruit for the 25 varieties of jams, marmalades and relishes he lays out at the now regular village market and his lemon curd was chosen by Fore Heritage and Amenity Group to be added to their bag of goodies representing the area that was presented to the Pride of Place national judging panel.

Paddy is a founding member of the market committee and he is delighted to see the market grow while still maintaining the important elements of supporting local producers and craftspeople.

“It has also become a place for the local community to gather, a focal point for us all. People are really looking to support the people in the community, buy fresh, buy in season and buy from small producers. This market, and others like it across the area, are seeing tremendous local support not just once or twice but as loyal returning customers.”

Social media keep people in contact with their customers and carry their small businesses to a wider audience. Designer Saoirse Fitzpatrick rolled up her sleeves early on to become one of the market’s youngest stallholders. While still at school in Mullingar, Saoirse who is from Ranaghan, Collinstown, began sewing designer masks, wraparound long towel hoodies that cover you while you get changed, inspired by the bracing environment of changing after a swim in Lough Lene, aprons and now Santa Stockings.

“I like to bring stock to the market and get chatting to people,” said Saoirse, “it’s so nice to get the chance to catch up and see and wave hello to people. Lockdown was hard on everyone and now I think people are worried about it again. But in a small place like this, we know everyone and everyone is so supportive. Having a Facebook page helps – it means that people like what they see and then can follow up with orders when they get home.”

Ciara Griffith and Tracey Carver had a really unusual set of frames for all occasions.

“This has been a lockdown project and it has really captured people’s imagination,” said Ciara. “We are recycling cartridges and we design and cut out the silhouette to create the picture.” The young ladies have been in their creative business, C&D for a month and are from Castletown Geoghegan and Tyrrellspass. “We have collections designed now, farming, equestrian, hunting, people really love the pictures and that they are made locally,” said Ciara.

Teresa Doyle, Ranaghan, is Ireland’s Ancient East’s Doll-maker and the artist who created Nancy on the doorway in Fore, Nelly at her cottage at the trail head, and the wonderful community mural that visitors to the market would have passed on their way from the village to the hall.

Alongside the Christmas cards and handmade Christmas ornaments, Teresa has a wall of tiny tweed veiled women; The Cailleachs of Teresa’s collection inspired by the island on Lough Lene and the name given to the women there, which in turn gave the village its Irish name Baile an Cailleach; town of the veiled women. The Cailleach, especially in this area, is associated with winter and storms so a suitable craft to be accompanying Teresa.

As with each of Teresa’s pieces, there is a story in the stitches and cloth and Teresa is an artful seanchaí. Her dolls capture the spirit of the community at a time when markets like this one are helping people to focus once again on their locality, community and deciding to choose local over global for their eggs, winter pansies, dolls, gnomes and milk for Santa.

Collinstown Fore Men’s Shed members John Fitzpatrick, Bernard Devine and Martin Smyth at the market on Sunday. The Men’s Shed had chirpy Robins on their Yule Logs and happy faces on their Reindeer but their biggest seller was their walking stick, as lockdown speculation has everyone dusting off their comfortable shoes and their big coats.
Teresa Doyle, one of the founding members of the market in Collinstown, and Ireland’s Ancient East’s dollmaker. On Sunday Teresa was selling tiny handmade snowmen, Christmas houses and her beautiful dolls.
Helen Kelly, one of the Collinstown Hall Market committee, with her honey, made from her own hives at her award winning home Loughbishop House. Helen is a key member of the tourism industry championing local produce and native breeds the Irish Draught Horse and moile cattle, or the little red cow that is synonymous with Ulster.
Inga Sperlina from Coole brought elegant French Macroons to the November Market.
Aloe Vera always sounds like a friendly salutation, and Sharon Davis from Archerstown was promoting her plant-based stock at the Collinstown market.
Oisin and Fran Keena from Dysart. Fran’s beautiful pieces are all local wood and no healthy tree was felled to make them. They are trees that fell in storms that Fran retrieved and gave a second life to in his beautiful designs.
A lockdown hobby has turned into a business sideline for Delvin sisters Kate and Maresa, making beautiful jewellery and taking it to markets. The savvy pair are on Facebook and Instagram with their new business. You can find them at Wisheds and Vibes.
Paddy Dempsey and his sister Bríd at his stall at the Collinstown Market.
Richard King of Loughpark Farms and Grace Carolan from Seannua Farm.
Pat Reilly from Coolronan Farm was in Collinstown putting all his eggs in one basket. Pat is a well known man at these markets and he believes that people are really keen to support the people they know so it is a great place for producers to meet with their community.
Vivienne Mulligan, Balliskean House, Monilea was ready for Christmas with beautiful savoury relishes, quiches and sweet bakes. A lockdown project that has grown into a wonderful artisan stall.
Deborah Goss and Morag Newman checking out the winter pansies at the stall run by Kevin Harmon from Fore.
Katie and Julian Standish, Drumcree, visiting the Collinstown Market.
Jean and Padraig Fox, Fore, visiting the Christmas Market.
Saoirse Fitzpatrick with her personalised Christmas Stockings, which are available from her Facebook page Saoirse Sews.
Kila, Emily and Evie Nolan from Fore at the market in Collinstown. The girls’ mam is the owner of the exciting new development in Fore, Ned’s Forge, and their dad is David Nolan from Nolan Engineering.
Chantel and Hayley Doyle from Mullingar with their Resin Crafts at the market in Collinstown.
Sarah Kelly from Coole, who is on her third Christmas making beautiful sweet boxes and parcels.
Martin and Mary Boyhan at Collinstown.
Jack Cunningham, Coole, who was at the market with carved wands, snowmen and other beautiful wood crafts, all created from local wood found around the village of Coole.
Mary and Mark Farmer and David and Valerie Buckley at the market.
Fergal and Anna Walsh, Cummerstown, at the Collinstown Market