Skibbereen farmer's market
I love a local market – you can see first hand what the surrounding land produces and the wonderful things that are created with local ingredients and a bit of culinary know-how. You get a little insight into what is being served up locally, with seasonal food in abundance, sights and smells to tempt your tastebuds, traditional crafts and skills on display.
The Farmer's Market started in May 2001 with just a few stalls, but today is a thriving affair with a wonderful variety of sellers, with well-know names such as Gubbeen cheese and Red Strand coffee side by side with local jam makers and cake bakers, and a rainbow of fresh local produce and fish.
Held every Saturday between 9.30 and 1.30 in the Aldi car park, there are also seasonal markets on a Wednesday, check Facebook for details.
For those visiting the area and catering for themselves, you'll find glorious organic vegetables, fish that looks like it has just hopped out of the harbour, artisan cheeses from West Cork and beyond, home baked pies and as many types of bread as you can imagine.
And if you are just passing through and want a tasty snack – how about a steaming hot chocolate, a falafel wrap or a pure Irish beef burger.
As if all that fabulous foodieness wasn't enough... there are gorgeous smelling soaps, packets of organic seeds, jewellery, textiles, wood crafts. Why not take a little bit of Ireland home with you?
The array of goods on offer reflects the growing desire for people to eat local and embrace artisan culture. Many smaller rural villages have few facilities, so coming into Skibb on a Saturday allows people to stock up on great produce and catch up with friends. You can even bring your own containers to refill with eco-friendly cleaning suppliers, or browse the bric-a-brac stalls to find the perfect prop for your favourite food photographer... Don't hesitate though if you see the perfect thing – we missed out on a pretty copper pan that was snapped up by someone else while we dithered!
On the day that we were there, there was live music too to add to the ambience. Beside the picnic tables a young girl with a beautiful voice and a guitar sang non-stop to entertain the shoppers and socialisers. Judging by the market's Facebook page, music is a regular ingredient of the market.
Having travelling round West Cork for the two previous weeks, we loved seeing so many familiar faces as we soaked up the atmosphere. There was the smiling chef from O'Sullivans in Castlehaven selling some tasty-looking salads; Robert and James from Mews in Baltimore eyeing up the Vietnamese spring rolls, and researching ingredients for their Michelin starred restaurant; the Carmelite nuns with the jam that we'd bought a few days earlier; the friendly chap with his Patterdale terrier who we had met walking up the hill in Castletownshend; someone we recognised from Hudson's Wholefoods in Schull. The people of West Cork are such a friendly lot, and everyone enjoys stopping for a chat and to make a fuss of Lola, not that she gives them any option.
We had a great chat to Giana Ferguson from Gubbeen whose stall was loaded down with a superb selection of cheese and meats from the family farm. She started making cheese from their own cows when her children were small, and those two children have grown up on the farm and created their own food businesses. Tom has focussed on the animals raised on the farm – cows, pigs and sheep – and makes his own smoked meat products. Clovisse's kingdom is the Kitchen Garden, growing biodynamic vegetables which add to the diversity of the farm's output.
You can read more about their family stories by following the links at the foot of the page.
I loved Giana's description of the market as being like a cocktail party: you get to meet up with all your friends, enjoy a bit of music and something to eat and drink, and find out what everyone is getting up to – oh, and then go home a basket of local goodies to savour later.
If you are anywhere near Skibbereen on a Saturday, you could not do better than spend the morning wandering round the Farmer's Market. Even on an October weekend, the market was alive with sellers and shoppers, stocking up on great quality local produce and catching up with friends.
And when you've had your fill of what the market has to offer, there are lovely cafés such as Glebe Gardens, and some really excellent shops, not to mention the compelling history of the area.
Skibbereen was badly affected during the famine years, and the Heritage Centre on the edge of town gives a fascinating insight into the town's history with audio visual descriptions featuring local resident Jeremy Irons amongst others. For a longer visit, you can download a smartphone audio tour which leads you around the town's significant locations. The Heritage Centre also has a section dedicated to nearby Loch Hyne, which you can read about on Travels in Brian, and has dedicated team who can help those researching family genealogy.