All the fun of the school Christmas fair


My Education Week: Catherine LyonsParent, St Cronan’s Boys National School, Bray, Co Wiclow


It’s one week until our 10th annual St Cronan’s Christmas Art and Craft Fair. Over the years we have perfected our approach, and we’re feeling good about this year. It’s set to be our biggest ever. The recession means that there is less money around, but there is a palpable rise in community spirit, and we have more people involved in the fair than ever before. In fact, we have more artists than stands this year, so this week will be an exercise in controlled expansion.

Our new principal, Maeve Tierney and deputy principal, Vera Nolan, have given full backing and support to everyone involved. Nóirín Dodd, the wife of a former principal; Anne Ivory, the school secretary; and our caretaker, John O’Toole, are all flat out helping to make the magic happen. Our cleaners, board members, the teachers, the boys and an amazing group of parents have all worked tirelessly fundraising for St Cronan’s, not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

This truly is an enormous team effort.Our mission is to raise enough money to replace our heating system which is showing its age. This year the parents already raised enough money to replace all the light fittings in the school. In previous years, we have used the money from the fair for things like computers; school maintenance is high on the agenda now.


Making my list and checking it twice. I just got off the phone to Santa and he’s getting his suit dry-cleaned for Sunday.

Over the years we have moved away from the jumble sale approach towards high-quality arts and crafts. It’s what the boys want, because they are looking to get presents for their mums and grannies. Loads of local people will come too because they know they will find interesting gifts.

Crafts are definitely coming back into favour. We have more than 50 artists and craftspeople exhibiting this year and there’s great demand for their wares.

I set off to the wholesalers for red table covers, raffle tickets, juices and spices for our non-alcoholic mulled wine. Back at the school, the donations of prizes and gifts are piling up. It’s a regular Santa’s grotto in the principal’s office.


Classes are going on as normal. Ms Healy and her choir are singing O Holy Night in preparation for their concert with Bray Choral Society on Saturday night. The first classes are busy rehearsing for their nativity plays and maths “power hour” is going on in another class. They’re making the most of their desks before we whip them away and cover them in cakes, craft and Christmas decorations.

There’s a great air of excitement around the school. What they really love is meeting Santa and having a chat. I overheard a discussion about whether or not the real Santa would actually come to St Cronan’s. One little boy said he thought that Santa would send a spy instead.


Nóirín Dodd, a local artist and the founder of this fair, came in to decorate eggs with some of the boys. As they were blowing out the innards one little boy was really struggling with the job. Poor fellow; his mother had hard-boiled the egg in case he broke it on the way to school. Every year Nóirín helps the boys to set up mini-companies and sell their products at the fair. Last year they put eyes and faces on rocks and made birth certificates for each one – Cro-rockers, they called them. They sold like hot cakes.

Speaking of hot cakes, I need an extra table for the rapidly expanding baking area. More specific requests are coming in. I need a stall near a window. I need access to a socket. Can I be next to Aoife? Have I room for a sock-monkey stall? What’s a sock-monkey, I wonder?


All the tables are coming in from the classrooms and it’s all hands on deck. The cleaners are very busy in the background, making sure St Cronan’s looks its best on Sunday.

Meanwhile, parents and children are busy sorting children’s books, chicklit, crime and cookery.

A classroom is transformed into a coffee shop by another group of parents.

Four Star Pizza (another parent) delivers pizzas for all the workers. Badly needed – it’s 4pm and we still have a grotto to build. Could be a long night.


After a busy day at the school perfecting stalls and signs and reindeer feeding areas, I took the night off and went to At The Movies at the National Concert Hall. Just wonderful.


School opens. The artists and crafts people, from Wexford to Donabate, arrive laden with bags and boxes promising all kinds of treasures and delights; knits, jewellery, candles, wood carvings, pearls from China, cosmetics, cushions stuffed with lavender, bunting from England, ceramics from Spain, mobile-phone accessories, cakes and biscuits.

The wine is mulling. Calm before the storm.

The senior boys arrive and start to put their mini-company stall together. They also run the raffle. We usually spot a few entrepreneurs of the future in their midst. I’ve already been told how well I look and of course I walked away with a handful of tickets.

Santa arrives laden with gifts. Alison and Becky are very busy with face painting and being Santa’s helpers.

Our young expert on all things Christmas is sharing his spy theory. He claims that that our Santa will be on Skype to the real one this evening and filling him in on who’s naughty and nice in Bray.

There’s frantic Christmas shopping going on now. Parents, children, aunts, uncles, nanas and granddads are all here. They arrive looking for unusual gifts. Everyone is busy, bags are being filled, tickets are being sold and the school is buzzing.

It’s hard to say yet but I reckon this will be our best year ever. We’ve had a lot of competition from other schools and public markets today but we have held our own and the people keep coming.

The aromas of mulled wine and lavender, candy floss and popcorn waft through the hall. The day flies by.

It’s the perfect start to the Christmas season.

This week I was . . .

Listening to . . .

A CD of St Cronan’s boys singing carols with Ronnie Drew

Watching. . .

Love/Hate , RTÉ. Intense and very compelling

Reading. . .

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Enjoying . . .

Masterchef Ireland, RTÉ

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