Loyal customers and producers make Country Market a success

It was a morning only the most hardy would stir out in but the falling snow and bitter cold didn't deter the fans of Cahir Country Market from braving the elements to buy their weekly fix of fresh home baking, vegetables and crafts.

It was a morning only the most hardy would stir out in but the falling snow and bitter cold didn't deter the fans of Cahir Country Market from braving the elements to buy their weekly fix of fresh home baking, vegetables and crafts.

At the height of the snow and ice last month, The Nationalist paid a visit to the weekly Friday market at Cahir Community Hall.

While most other markets would have closed up shop for the day, the stallholders of Cahir Country Market pressed ahead with business as usual and were rewarded with a better than expected turnout that included such well known figures as country singer Louise Morrissey and local TD Mattie McGrath.

Cahir Country Market has been running for 37 years and is part of Country Markets Ltd, a nationwide co-operative of 58 such markets selling good old fashioned home made breads, cakes, tarts, buns, jams, marmalades, savoury dishes, locally grown fruit and vegetables, garden plants and a variety of crafts ranging from knitted clothing to jewellery.

Country Markets Ltd was founded in 1946 to help rural people extend their income and the first market was opened down the road in Fethard 60 years ago

Peggy O'Brien is the market's treasurer and is at the Community Hall at 7.30am every Friday with some other members of the Country Market setting up shop for the morning ahead.

She says Cahir County Market has about 20 members and most live within an eight mile radius of Cahir, though she points out that if they get a good producer, they don't mind where they come from.

Peggy was, in fact, the Market's founding treasurer and is also one of several members involved in the Irish Country Women's Association, which is a sister organisation of Country Markets Ltd.

Peggy, who is the ICA's Munster Vice-President, stresses that you don't have to be an ICA member to join the Country Market and points out that they welcome new stallholders.

"I would love new producers to join us. I feel they bring us new customers," she told The Nationalist.

She explained that the Country Markets is run under very stringent rules and she must balance the books every year. All proceeds from the Market are pooled and divided among the stallholders at the end of each month less 10%, which goes towards the upkeep of the Market.

On the morning The Nationalist visits, the Country Market members host its annual fundraising coffee morning in aid of South Tipperary Hospice. Visitors to the market are treated to steaming hot cups of tea and coffee with mouth watering scones and buns, a very welcome comfort from the bitter cold outside. The fundraiser, which is continued the following week, raised an impressive E2,600 for the Hospice.

Cahir Country Market PRO Catherine Ryan, who introduces me to some of the stallholders, is pleased with the turnout of customers considering the atrocious weather.

"We have had people coming here since 9am. We had three to four regular customers in as soon as we opened. It's amazing," says Catherine, who is a member of Country Markets Ltd's Board of Management.

One of the big attraction of the Country Market is that all the food and produce is fresh. Catherine points out that it's in their rules that all produce must be fresh and baking must by done just before that week's market.

Lucy Power from Clonmel, who is selling home made quiche, chocolate almond cake, brownies and muffins, is one of the market's newest stall holders.

She joined the Country Market co-op after being made redundant from her job last April.

"I always loved baking and ran a guest house for a number of years. I always used to bring my baking into work."

Lucy says her home baking sold really during the summer but since the autumn sales have been down. People simply aren't spending as the recession deepens. This is a view echoed by other stallholders.

Helen Hayes from the Glen of Aherlow is the Country Market's new chairperson. She sells her handmade cushions, tea cosies and shopping bags and is a stallholder at the market for 10 years. She says she often spends the whole day before a market sewing and ironing her home made crafts in preparation.

Beside her is Chris Wort from Tubrid near Clogheen, who sells her own handmade beaded necklaces and other jewellery as well as flower arrangements. "I started out doing the flowers and branched into the jewellery because the flowers started to dry up. Usually it takes an hour or two to make a jewellery piece, and sometimes a little bit longer. It's quite fiddly. You either like it or hate it," she explains.

The Country Market isn't just an exclusively female enterprise. John Bailes sells the potted plants he produces in his own garden at the market and during the summer months he does a busy trade with his bedding plants. Pat Kearney is one of two vegetable growers, who sell their produce at the market.

Hiliary Carter, who is involved with the County Market for 22 years, distributes 20 dozen free range eggs to the market's bakers every week. She is an award winning jam maker, who won the Blackmore Cup for best all-round jam at Iverk Agricultural Show for the second time last year. Brown bread, Dundee cake and cookies are her baking specialties.

She believes good fruit and slow cooking are the key secrets to making a good jam, and also to add the sugar after the fruit is cooked. Raspberry, strawberry, plum, gooseberry, crab apple are among the array of fruits she turns into delicious jams and jellies and she also makes seville, grapefruit and lemon marmalade.

Mary Hally from Cahir and Mairead Moloney from New Inn are two of the market's popular bakers. All of Mary's baking is nearly sold out by the time The Nationalist reaches her stall. She got involved in the Country Market about 10 years ago and loves the social side of meeting the people, who buy her coffee cake and buns.

"You meet people and its nice to be doing something. My children are all finished school now," she said.

Mairead Moloney agrees. "You would be saying you would give it up but then you'd miss the work and meeting all the people coming in, the customers."

Cahir Country Market is on every Friday at Cahir Community Hall from 9am to 11.30am. For further information contact Catherine Ryan