Fermanagh Fine Food and Craft Market

Jenny Cathcart meets the stall-holders

The following article was written in 2008. The Fermanagh Fine Food Market is on longer in the Diamond in Enniskillen, however they have started a new and much larger Fermanagh Market at Ulster Farmers Mart Complex on Tempo Road, Enniskillen on the last Saturday in each Month. With food, handicrafts and poultry sale, as well as ample free car parking and a large variety to choose from, it's a great day out. Many side shows are organised to help entertain the families who attend.

On the first Saturday of any month and on the Saturdays nearest to Easter, Christmas and Halloween, there is a flurry of activity around the Fermanagh Fine Food and Craft market stalls on the Diamond at Enniskillen.

The Town Hall clock strikes 10am and the first in the queue of eager customers is welcomed by stall holders, the ladies of the country market group, who have come straight from their farmhouses with the freshest of farm produce: eggs, jams and preserves, tarts and traybakes, cakes, pies and scones straight from the oven.

The country market is a collective of about twenty farm producers, mainly women, who were encouraged by 'Women in Agriculture', a local Fermanagh umbrella organisation funded by TWN, the Training Women`s Network, and led by Ann Orr, to undertake part time training in catering, hygiene, horticulture, gardening, craftwork, and to learn computer and marketing skills. Classes were offered at the Enniskillen Agricultural College, the Fermanagh College and occasionally at Loughry Agricultural College.

The market coordinator is Elaine Hall who, with her mother Phyllis Hall, produces cakes and traybakes for sale as Hollybrook Home Bakes. Hollybook House, the Hall family farmhouse, nestles amid gentle drumlins just a mile from Lisnaskea in the south of County Fermanagh. It is an imposing 18th century listed building that once belonged to the Leslie family, but was purchased by John Hall in 1951.

Phyllis Hall cultivates fruit and vegetables in her greenhouse and kitchen garden. Strawberries, blackcurrents, raspberries, gooseberries, vegetables, marrows, apples and rhubarb are home grown ingredients for Hollybrook apple and rhubarb tarts, or marrow and ginger jam. Come Christmas time, Phyllis will be busy making Christmas cakes, mince pies and plum puddings.

Elaine Hall specialises in tray bakes, boasting an assortment of forty different biscuit squares from caramel and lemon slices to chocolate coated rich crispies. Each baked tray is cut in quarters and then in eighths Each slice is presented in bun paper and the bun cases are packed six to a box for the market stall.

Ivy Ritchie is a retired primary school teacher who lives on a dairy farm near Newtownbutler, right on the border between Co Fermanagh in the North and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland. During 'The Troubles' she and her family were subjected to more than their share of inconvenient checks and searches especially when the nearby Munilly bridge was blown up by the IRA. And the family were obliged to make a detour of eight miles to reach the local grocery store.

Happily in these more peaceful days, Ivy is glad to earn some supplementary income from the sale of her Cara Country Kitchen products. Three days before the Enniskillen market , Ivy is busy preparing soda bread and tarts, sandwich cakes and sponge cakes. On an average day she will sell ten tarts and a dozen sandwich cakes.
Like the other stall holders she will pay 10% commission into a communal pot which will be used for advertising and running costs. When she factors in the cost of packaging she still expects to make a 50% profit on her sales. The market producers are not allowed to undercut highstreet shop prices but by cutting out the middleman and satisfying a niche market for fresh home made food they still have an advantage.

Emily Crozier`s chilldhood was spent on a farm at Rockcorry, Co Monaghan where her mother knitted and crocheted almost every stitch of clothing the family wore. Rarely did she resort to buying readymade clothes. Emily, who inherited her mother`s love of needlework works part time in an Enniskillen woolshop and still has time to produce trendy knitted scarves and crocheted items for sale as Emily`s Crafts at the Saturday market. During the Christmas period she makes Christmas decorations including crackers, snowmen and wreaths using knit-in lace and wool.

Rosemary Armstrong trained at Portrush Catering College and worked in an Italian restaurant near Niagara Falls in Canada before returning to Northern Ireland to marry her husband Geoffrey who now farms 350 beef cattle and as many sheep at Tullyhona, Florencecourt.

Rosemary and Geoffrey modernised the original Tullyhona farm cottage in 1980 and made further extensions in 1988. Renamed Arch House, for the Marble Arch Caves are nearby, the property is one of the most recommended and popular Bed and Breakfast locations in the county offering six en suite bedrooms, a restaurant, a playground for children and a farm shop.

Rosemary, who is right up to date with current marketing strategies, learned to design her own website and is thus able to take bookings from prospective guests on the internet. As a result she receives American, Australian, and an increasing number of European visitors who enjoy the personalised service, the peaceful setting of a country farmhouse, the lakeland scenery, walking trips in the Cladagh Glen and historic attractions including Florencecourt House with its unique sixteenth century summer mill and watermill.

A Fungus Group,  who are regular visitors to Arch House spend their days picking mushrooms in the local hillsides and by evening when they return to Arch House, they check their baskets for edible varieties and ask Rosemary to fry them up for breakfast next morning. Rosemary`s Arch House kitchen is mentioned in the Taste of Ulster Guide. She has won a 'Gate to Plate' award organised by the Farmers Union and Friends of the Earth.

Some of her recipes appear in a collection of Traditional Farm and Country House Recipes published by the Northern Ireland Farm and Country Holidays Association. Purveying her home-made mint sauce and marmalades, meringues and sun dried tomato bread, Rosemary is a regular stall holder at the Enniskillen market where she enjoys meeting her customers as much as they enjoy buying from the person who produced the goods on sale.

Born on a farm at Garvery near Enniskillen, Jayne Paget studied Home Economics at Jordanstown University and became a teacher. She still teaches on a part time basis but her main occupation is making jams, chutneys and marmalades for her small business outlet, Eringrove Preserves. Believing that good primary products are the key to excellent preserves, Jayne buys her fruit and vegetables from Fermanagh farmers providing local food for local people.

As with every venture there are good days and bad days. On the day of the Halloween market heavy rain deterred some customers and forced stallholders to protect their produce from the rain with plastic covers.

Regular customers turned up as usual, however, and children and parents in search of Halloween pumpkins and fare made a special visit to the market. Liz Miller grew all the pumpkins on sale in her own garden. Having removed the pumpkin pulp, she carved the orange shells into attractive lantern shades and then set about making delicious pumpkin soup, pumpkin pies and puree for her Halloween market stall.

By Jenny Cathcart