All around us, local people are producing the finest in fresh food and crafts. Cróna Esler was bowled over by what was on offer at a Claremorris fair.

IN THE West of Ireland, we never seem to fully appreciate the food produce of our local suppliers. In December, one passionate lady decided to do something about it and set about organising a massive Food and Craft Fair in the McWilliam Park Hotel in Claremorris. Up to 50 producers turned up on the day, displaying and selling their homemade goods. And, such was the success of the Fair that organiser, Doreen Allen-McManus, has pledged to make it a regular occurrence.

On Sunday December 16, there was a fantastic buzz around the Claremorris hotel, as locals and visitors to the area flocked in to take a look at the products and produce on offer. The fair, which ran from 12 noon until 5pm, saw more than 2,000 people flood through the doors and, needless to say, Doreen was over the moon with the response received.

The McWilliam Park laid on a complimentary mulled wine reception at the entrance to the fair – a gesture that went a long way in settling the scene for a successful event. As well as the many wonderful stands scattered across the function room, Doreen decided to get the children involved in the day, by allowing the adults to browse and inviting the children to join her on stage for a spot of baking.

Giving the children chef ’s hats and writing their names on individual hats, the children were delighted to get stuck in and Doreen showed them how to make shortbread, allowing them to roll up their sleeves and get their hands in the bowls to mix it all up. The group then cut their short-bread into festive shapes and put their goodies on a plate to take home and bake.

“It’s such a simple recipe and one I learned myself when I was just two years old. I gave the children the recipe so they could make them at home. We may well have some future chefs in the making,” smiled Doreen.

Strolling around the fair with Doreen, she pointed out some of the exhibitors who really have the potential to go places with their products. Headford’s Sarah Forde, for instance, had a mouth-watering selection of savoury and sweet pies, as well as garlic butter, pâté and pastes at her stand, while across the way, a stall bearing the Clare-based company ‘Wines of the Glen’ (the only commercial sellers of fruit-flavoured wine) was attracting attention.

Tuam-based Joe Desmond was also there with his delicious ‘Luchese-Irlande’ pesto and Andrew Pelham-Burn of Carrowholly Cheese in West-port was, as always, selling fast.

Also from Tuam, Blake’s organic fair-trade chocolate had an impressive display, with Graham and Saoirse Roberts from the Connemara Smokehouse going down a treat with fish-lovers.

Newport’s Patty Moss was in full flight with her scrumptious jams and chutneys, while Ann Cleary from Tuam had a mixture of sweet and savoury with her ‘La Mexicana’ food and her ‘Cookie Bouquets’.

On the craft side of things, Eddie Collins – a wood-turner from Belclare, Tuam – had an impressive display of his wares and then, all across the large room, there were many more lots of quality goods.

Doreen’s motivation for organising the fair stemmed from her own passion for cooking and her annoyance at the lack of venues for local producers to sell their products.

“Getting your produce into stores can be quite difficult and very expensive. I thought it would be a good idea to bring together the many quality producers across the region and that way, people could put their heads together, offer support, swap ideas and maybe come up with some plans and ideas on how to cut distribution costs,” Doreen explained.

Deemed by many as the ‘West of Ireland Food Promoter’, Doreen has vision, direction and enthusiasm – characteristics that will certainly see her fulfil her quest to promote the best of food produce in the West.

Head Chef at Renvyle House Hotel, Tim Sullivan, attended the Claremorris fair to offer support to Doreen, as too did Kathy Welby (Treasurer of the West of Ireland Food and Craft Fairs) and Seamus Sheridan of Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.

And, with one fantastic Fair under her belt, Doreen Allen-McManus has become even more passionate about the cause. Of course, this means good news for food lovers across the region, as this certainly won’t be the last we’ll see of Doreen, or indeed of the impressive fairs.

By Westren People Newspaper