‘I’d love if people ate local produce all the time, not just during a pandemic’

Stradbally’s open-sided Market House is an ideal venue for the town’s weekly farmers market

 

Anyone who has ever driven through the Laois town of Stradbally will be familiar with the rust-coloured canopy of the Market House in the town’s square. With its distinctive pagoda-style roof, steel balustrades and ornate ironwork the 1899 structure stands out.

In 2017 the sensitive restoration of the open shelter was highly commended in the Irish Georgian Society’s conservation awards and last year the Market House took on a whole new lease of life when a weekly farmers market featuring local produce commenced, almost by stealth, in the middle of a pandemic.

John Egan, of Ratheniska Farm Fresh, jokes that the market just sprang up overnight. But that’s not quite the case. For many years a successful weekly country market had operated from a nearby church hall, but that had closed in March 2020 because of Covid.

Perfect place

With its open sides the Market House is the perfect place for such a venture, protected from the elements while also out of doors. A number of traders approached Laois County Council, with the support of the Cosby family, owners of the Market House (and nearby Stradbally Hall, home of Electric Picnic), about setting up an outdoor market and arrangements were made to allow trading commence every Friday from 2pm to 5pm.

Ruth O’Hara and Kate O’Hara of Temptation Patisserie. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Ruth O’Hara and Kate O’Hara of Temptation Patisserie. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Twins Kate and Ruth O’Hara (24) from Durrow were prompted by the pandemic to leave their careers in accounting and finance to follow their passion and set up Temptations Patisserie. They make their delicious chocolate, truffles, bonbons and macaroons in a rented industrial kitchen unit at Mountmellick Development Association and sell at the market. “We’ve turned our hobby into a business and we’re self taught,” explains Ruth.

John Egan is the driving force behind the market having developed his gardening hobby into a multigenerational family business. What he didn’t know, he found out through YouTube tutorials and Ratheniska Farm Fresh now has seven poly tunnels, with two more planned for their production of fresh vegetables, and they also sell eggs from their own chickens.

Teresa Fingleton and her granddaughter Keeva, of Stradbally Country Bakers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Teresa Fingleton and her granddaughter Keeva of Stradbally Country Bakers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Cleaner environment

The aim is to provide local produce, promote a cleaner environment and to help build a self-sustaining local economy, he says.

Teresa Fingleton and her granddaughter Keeva, of Stradbally Country Bakers, are also from Ratheniska. They offer a wide range of baked goods, chutneys, marmalades and jams – all made from local fruits, some grown, some gathered. “We’ve had all sorts of weather [at the market], but it doesn’t make a difference because we’re covered,” says Teresa.

Carmel McLoughlin and granddaughter Ava Campbell (8) of Abbey Nurseries. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Carmel McLoughlin and granddaughter Ava Campbell (8) of Abbey Nurseries. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Carmel McLoughlin of Abbey Nurseries was also being assisted by a granddaughter – Ava Campbell (8). Carmel grew up in Stradbally and now lives in Nurney where she grows the plants herself and sells them all year round.

“It is very seasonal. In winter it’s cyclamen, pansies and violas and we did a very good trade in Christmas wreaths last year.” Abbey Nurseries also offer a service whereby they will put plants on a grave for a family who cannot do so themselves.

Elizabeth Bradley of Carlow Farmhouse Cheese. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Elizabeth Bradley of Carlow Farmhouse Cheese. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Market veteran

Elizabeth Bradley of Carlow Farmhouse Cheese is a market veteran. She used to be a dry-stock farmer but circumstances led her to making her own cheese from sheep milk and she sells a wide variety of hard and soft cheeses in flavours including nettle and chilli.

Blue cheese from sheep milk is one of her specialities. Covid has led to a change in people’s taste, she says – with restaurants closed more people are cooking, experimenting. “I’ve never sold as much blue cheese as in the past few months,” she says.

“I’d love if people ate local produce all the time, not just during a pandemic.”