Three festivals every week for a year. Mark Graham is thrilled by Tayto Park
THERE IS NO escaping it now, silly season has arrived. And along with it a host of portable, pseudo-Viennese villages that hawk everything from massage hammers to giant electric socks that you can fit both your feet into for a healthy mix of warmth, immobility and ridiculousness.
Christmas festivals are a difficult animal to tackle. The main thrust of these things is to try and get you to go and spend your hard-earned butter vouchers on a whole array of shiny and seasonal gee-gaws. That’s not really in keeping with what the spirit of a festival should be; at the very least you’d hope that this modus operandi would be so well hidden by smoke and mirrors that you wouldn't mind shelling out a few bob for the experience. I think I may have found three Christmas carnivals that distract in a delightful way while only gently picking your pocket.
I’ve always considered myself a connoisseur of the crisp, having a sophisticated palate that can discern a paltry corn snack from a proper flavorsome fried spud slice, worthy of inclusion in a gourmet Easi-single sang-ich.
The excitement I felt when finally making the first ever trip to Tayto Park in Co Meath must be what it’s like for ICA Ladies heading off on an outing to Daniel’s museum in Dungloe. The prospect of a free packet of crisps is for me akin to a cup of fresh tea poured by D O’D himself for the ladies, accompanied by a Mikado from Margo.
It didn’t disappoint. I was a happy man-child in a crisp factory. Allegedly the park is actually designed for children and sure enough, there are many things for them to swing from and jump off, but c’mere, this is the place where they make Tayto and you can walk though the factory. Willy Wonka me b@llix!
The excuse for the trip was the Craft of Christmas Market taking place in the park every weekend up to C-Day, but it definitely wasn’t the only draw.
The market is pleasant and, laudably, features a range of local produce, with some scheduled cookery demos from some wellknown chef types thrown in; a nice distraction for the adults while the kids are bouncing on the bison. The highlight was definitely the free big bag of crisps I got when heading out the gap. Tayto at source yo! An experience on a par with eating spaghetti bolognese in Bologna or teppenyaki in Tokyo.
Winterval wonderland Billboards all around the country are boldly proclaiming “Waterford Winterval – Ireland’s Christmas Festival”. A lofty claim for a festival in its first year, especially as it hits a market where there are many other established contenders for the title. A giant snowglobe in the centre of the city is not just a place to get a mantelpiece memento: one young fella decided to propose amidst the fake snow and air pumps (not the only source of pressure I imagine). Glad to report she said yes.
That story kinda captures the atmosphere around the town nicely; it would seem the festive spirit is alive and well in the South-East. The action is spread throughout Waterford City with stalls, fairground rides, films, 3-D building projections, a toy museum, gingerbread making workshops, artisan food market and all the shiny gee-gaws butter vouchers can buy. Most of the events are free, but train rides and pictures in snowglobes will cost ya. Ireland’s Christmas Festival? I haven’t seen a better one yet.
My favourite festive market is the bumper edition of Dublin Flea Market. Usually based at Dublin Food Co-op, this weekend the bizarre bazaar will be upping sticks to set up stall in Smithfield with Block T. Expect vintage clothing, posters, handmade jewelry, music, fantastic falafels, chestnuts roasted on open fires and a smattering of DIY culture. You’re more likely to pick up pre-loved and alternative gee-gaws in this gaff.
Safe travels, don’t die.
DUBLIN FLEA: ALL THE SHINY GEE-GAWS MONEY CAN BUY
TAYTO PARK: ELF YOURSELF