Relying on the market economy for this year's gifts


As money remains tight for many people this year, Christmas shopping will have to be a more considered, less frantic exercise. Choosing gifts carefully and supporting local craft makers is one way to add the “feel good” factor to the experience.

What’s on offer at Christmas craft fairs is often more varied, sometimes unique, full of character, design and technical skill.

Here’s a selection of 10 craft fairs around the country that are making a special effort to create a Christmas shopping mood and with offerings that should bring satisfaction to the giver and receiver of gifts.

Marlay Christmas Craft Fair

Marlay House, Grange Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin; November 23rd-25th: Fri 6pm-9pm; Sat/Sun 10am-5pm. Admission: adults €2.50, children free

Special feature:The house’s expansive parklands under the Dublin mountains are a magnificent backdrop for this busy annual craft fair held in the Georgian-style Marlay House.

Now in its 11th year, the fair specialises in Irish-made produce – hats, knitwear, costume jewellery, wall art, pottery and wooden bowls and boards.

Tip:Arrive early to avoid crowds and fit in a bracing walk on this, the start point of the Wicklow Way. Also, you can buy lunch in the courtyard food markets on Saturday, in a pop-up cafe in Marlay House or in the lovely woodland cafe next to the walled garden.

Killruddery Christmas Craft Fair and Farmers’ Market

Killruddery House and Gardens, Southern Cross Road, Bray, Co Wicklow; November 23rd-25th, November 30th-December 2nd: Fri 4pm-8pm; Sat/Sun 10am-6pm. Admission free, suggested donation of €2 to Barnardos for car parking

Special feature:Lino prints, embroidered jewellery, Brook Shoals candles and hand knits for babies in the Orangery of Killruddery House, while the farmers’ market goes on in the horse yard.

Tip:Wear layered clothing because it will be warm and crowded in the Orangery and cold and breezy in the gardens and stableyards. Enjoy the winter mood of the gardens while there.

Galway Continental Christmas Market

Eyre Square, Galway city; galwaychristmas November 23rd-December 22nd: Mon to Wed noon-8pm; Thur to Sun 10am-10pm. Admission free

Special feature:The mood of the covered European Christmas market is transported to Galway, with German beer and bratwurst, mulled wine, mince pies, wooden toys and traditional puppets, scented candles and Christmas tree decorations for sale.

Tip:Bring children earlier in the day when it’s not so crowded. Consider it an alternative meeting point for friends in the frosty winter evenings.

Castlebar Christmas Market

Breaffy House Hotel events arena, Castlebar, Co Mayo; castlebar November 24th-25th: 10am-5pm. Admission free

Special feature:Billed as Mayo’s biggest indoor Christmas market, this eclectic food, craft and gift fair aims to provide that festive feeling while you shop, with choral performances and children’s workshops just some of the extras on offer within this huge, heated indoor arena.

Tip:Great for candles, Christmas decorations and handmade chocolates.

Food and Design Winter Fair

Belvedere House and Gardens, Mullingar, Co Westmeath; November 24th-25th, 10am-6pm.

Admission free to Belvedere House and Gardens all weekend

Special feature:Lots of festive food, cream liqueurs, teddy bears, ceramics, handbags and designer jewellery.

Tip:Take the opportunity to visit the Georgian villa that is Belvedere House and the 160 acres of parkland that roll down to Lough Ennell.

Christmas Market

Grand Parade, Cork city; November 30th-December 2nd; December 6th-9th; December 13th-23rd: 10am-8pm. Admission free

Special feature:The wide street of Grand Parade will be transformed with covered stalls selling fair trade crafts, handmade jewellery and wooden toys.

Tip:Sample the atmosphere by trying out the traditional European seasonal specialities: glühwein, roasted chestnuts and crepes.

National Craft and Design Fair

RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin; December 5th-9th: Wed to Fri 10am-10pm; Sat/Sun 10am-7pm. Admission €10 adults; €8 senior citizens; under 16s free with adults

Special feature:The largest and most extensive Christmas craft fair, this is the annual outing for up to 500 craftworkers, designers and textile artists. Here, you can buy everything from designer jewellery and high fashion to artisan food.

Tip:Browse well before purchasing because this is a chance to buy something you, or the person you give your gift to, will cherish for the rest of your life.

Dublin Docklands Christmas Festival

George’s Dock, Docklands, Dublin city centre; December 7th-23rd: Mon to Fri, noon-8pm; Sat/Sun 10am-8pm

Special feature:George’s Dock will be transformed with festive lighting and smells at this continental-style Christmas market. There’s live music at lunchtimes and early evenings to get the IFSC office workers into the Christmas spirit.

Tip:With an estimated 250,000 visitors in attendance last year, this seasonal event is not for people seeking peace and quiet. With large outdoor seating areas planned, organisers are hoping to attract similar numbers again this year.

Christmas Crafts Bazaar

Former Franciscan church, Henry Street, Limerick city; 087-2743414; December 14th-16th: Fri 3pm-8pm; Sat 10am-6pm; Sun noon-4pm. Admission free

Special feature:Organised in tandem with the craft fair in the nearby Hunt Museum, this fair prides itself in its atmospheric backdrop to the craft produce on sale and is fast becoming a favourite festive outing in the southwest.

Tip:Check out the frescoes and stained-glass windows in the 19th-century church while there.

Christmas Market

The Séamus Ennis Cultural Centre, Naul, Co Dublin; December 16th: 10.30am-4.30pm; admission free

Special feature:All handmade Irish crafts including silk scarves, willow baskets, leather goods, patchwork, stained glass and lots more in this popular craft fair, which has added a marquee this year to create extra space.

Tip:Perfect for those who don’t want to be swamped by the larger fairs and yet are keen to buy handmade Irish craft this Christmas.

Belfast Christmas Market

City Hall grounds, Belfast City; Until December 20th; Mon-Wed 10am-8pm; Thurs-Sat 10am-10pm; Sun 1pm-6pm;

Special feature:With Belfast City Hall strewn in Christmas lights, its front plaza is an atmospheric outdoor setting for this continental-style Christmas market. There’s a wide range of international crafts, foods and festive decorations and a traditional merry-go-round for children.

Tip:Visitors can hop on the free shuttle bus to the weekend St George’s Market (opposite Belfast Waterfront Hall), which stocks lots of extra seasonal foods from now until Christmas. It also hosts a Christmas Craft Fair from December 7th to 9th and opens from Dec 17th to 19th and 24th.

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