A Christmas made in Galway

This year in the belief that money spent in Galway goes around Galway, I have concentrated on what I consider would make amazing gifts, by just looking at the wonderful range of crafts, beautiful things, skills, and services actually made in the city and nearby. I had a marvellous time and I thank everyone who showed me what they are doing. It was truly a journey of discovery. I was very impressed with a little boutique in Kirwan’s Lane called Cloon Keen Atelier, and the heavenly smell as I opened the door. Run by Margaret Mangan and her partner Julian Checkly, they offer more than 35 scented hand -poured candles, all made at their larger shop and factory in the craft and design studios, Ceardlann, at An Speidéal. I’ll come back to the Ceardlann in a moment, but I was intrigued by Cloon Keen, named after the village, near Tuam, where Margaret was born. Very professionally wrapped and presented, this is an outstanding product. If you ever wondered what is the smell of Christmas, three particular candles caught my nose and made me smile: Christmas Pomander, Christmas Tree, and Christmas Morning all €14.95.

It’s hard to pass through Kirwan’s Lane without visiting Judy Greene’s beautiful shop. Her Connemara floral designs on her tableware are famous, but check out her new An Dressiúr range which include the popular ‘Malaí Tae Caite’(€17. 50 ) for the old tea bags, and the cups with ‘An Múinteoir is Fearr (€15 ), and ‘An Boss Beag’.

Both the Treasure Chest and Stephen Faller’s have the best Christmas gift rooms I have ever seen, and are a pleasure to visit. In Brown Thomas’ a company called Imprints is offering ceramic impressions of your baby’s hands and feet. Last Saturday it was doing a roaring trade on the first floor. But it is only there once a month. If this appeals to you a B T voucher will cover part of the expense, or give an Imprints voucher which you get from Caitriona in ‘bags’. No Caitriona is certainly not a bag, but that’s the department where she works!

All the city art galleries make a special effort at this time of year, and tend not only to be interesting buildings but are laden with paintings and objects made by local artists and sculptors. In the Bold Gallery, St Augustine Street and Merchants Road, enjoy the Galway landscapes by Philip Grey and others, and look at in particular at Hazel Hendy’s panoramic photographs of Galway from €65 to €200.

Nearby Kennys, Middle Street is displaying a range of works by local artists, but I was particularly impressed by the romantic Galway Christmas scenes by Lithuanian artist Jolanta Sencyna. In The Blackcat Gallery, Market Street, Ted Turton and Janet Vinnell display their own paintings and Christmas cards all of local scenes at very good prices. You’ll enjoy your visit to the The Blackcat!

And then just as you turn into Edward Square, there is the intriguing new Hotel Shop. Its door was swept open for me by a uniformed concierge. Inside I learned that you can buy a voucher for all the services on offer, including spas, meals, rooms and cocktails, from all of Gerry Barrett’s stylish hotels. You can get a voucher by phoning the hotels direct (Meyrick 091-564041, Ashford Castle 094-9546003, The amazing Galway G 091-865200, and the Drogheda D 041-9877700 ), or sweep into the Hotel Shop in style. I can hardly think of a better gift than a voucher for afternoon tea at Ashford Castle at €50 for two. Afternoon tea is like having your lunch and dinner all rolled together. That’s good value.

About you now!

There are three Galway CDs I would warmly recommend. Bob Quinn’s Vox Humana -Notes for a small opera, which uses an inconsequential story to highlight the glorious music of the Galway Baroque Singers, Ireland’s best known choir. Eighteen pieces of music are featured including Silent Night. Watch out for Quinn’s superb introduction to Bruckner’s Locus Iste. The film is a tribute to this challenging and fearless choir; and for good measure, a master class from the conductor Dr Audrey Corbett. It’s not an easy CD to find. But if you contact John Whelan (087-2430198 ) it’s yours for €20.

The Augustinian Church Choir, under the direction of Sonny Molloy, with Pat Lillis on the organ, produced earlier this year To Sing is to pray twice, - 20 of their popular Sunday hymns including Tynan’s haunting ‘All in the April Evening’. It’s on sale at the church shop for €15, and in the spirit of the season, two copies are available for only €25.

If you want to get everyone going mad at your Christmas party give them a blast of the Saw Doctors’ great new CD Clare Island to Cape Cod. The Saw Docs are truly a Galway phenomena. They began playing in the Quay’s Bar in 1988, and Ollie Jennings has managed them since 1990. They swept back into the top of the charts this year with their infectious ‘About you now!’ Their latest success coincided with Salerno’s drive to collect money for cystic fibrosis. The Saw Docs generously contributed €10,000 from the sales of their record at Zhivago’s, Shop Street. This was a great boost to Salerno students who, I understand, have raised in the region of an incredible €100,000 for this very worthwhile cause. An outstanding achievement for any school.

The Saw Docs’ CD is available from Zhivago’s at €14.99.

The Connemara Black

I mentioned the Cloon Keen perfumed candles to Eric Byrne in his Celtic Coin and Design Jewellery factory and shop at Ceardlann, the Spiddal Craft and Design studios. He said he burnt one of their apple-pie candles during the summer, and customers congratulated him on his cooking!

The Ceardlann is well worth a visit. There are no parking difficulties, and there is a satisfying choice of gift ideas. Geraldine O’Rourke’s porcelain and Paul O’Neill’s wooden bowls sell around the world, and here they are on our doorstep. Rob D’eath’s gallery ‘Sliding Rock’ offers a choice of art in ceramics, and wood that makes his place an Aladdin’s cave. He has a stunning new Italian range including cups and saucers and pasta bowls, and work from a number of leading artists including Ann Towers. There are traditional musical instruments, Celtic designs on T-shirts and cushions, belts and wallets, and costume jewellery and delicate rings and necklaces made from our distinctive old coinage in the pre-decimal days. The vibrant Connemara colours are reflected in Máire Ní Thaidhg’s scarfs and rugs.

When you have finished shopping head for Jamie Peaker’s Builín Blasta, at the top of the craft village. Jamie is the new boy on the block and everyone raves about his chocolate and beetroot brownies, his home made pickles and chutneys, and his freshly made loaves and scones. I was told he bakes with love. From New Zealand, Jamie, a natural chef, was on a world tour to learn about food from different countries. But he dropped anchor in Ireland for the past four years, and cheerfully admits that he has found a safe harbour in the arms of an Irish girl.

Back in Mainguard Street, I called into my friends the Duffy family, and their renowned angling and shooting shop. Had they anything made in Galway? Brian called me and a couple of would-be anglers over to a press and showed us a tray of beautiful, old-style, traditional fishing flies that would strike terror in any Corrib trout or salmon. Each one was lovingly made by a Galwayman, who wished to remain anonymous in order to protect his art. They cost from €1.50 each, which, as Brian says, is literally a pittance to catch a salmon. “ They are the Chateau neuf de Papes of the fly world,” said Brian modestly, and a chorus of would-be anglers nodded in agreement. Brian slowly pronounced their names like a monk rhyming off the litany of saints, and after each name we all in toned O-Rá-te pro nobis. The Bibio. Watson’s Fancy. The Grasshopper. The famous fan-winged mayfly, and the king of the all, The Connemara Black. “This is the only place in the world,” he said, “ where it is not racist to speak of the Connemara Black.”

Good luck with your shopping...

Next Week: Some Christmas books...



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