The Brave French Christmas Fair of Kildare

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Deirdre Lane reports on a cold day in December, when elements conspired against the much-loved notion of the open-air French market

In 1169, Normans arrived in town and a notable French man Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke – alias Strongbow – ventured to Kildare, thus marking a significant link between both regions. Kildare, today home to population of 8,412, includes one recent Norman resident keen to conquer local taste buds and their pockets.

Kildare, founded in the 5th century, has been home to a market ‘from time whereof memory runs not,’ as per the Statutes of Henry VI (1458). Its official Thursday market was authorised by Henry VIII in the Charter of Kildare of 1515. Then along came a Skinny French chef and hosted one on a Sunday!

Well the elements went against him: his mother and, alas, the other stall holders. Indeed Santa’s moan of “It’s feckin’ leakin’ in here!” was overheard by shivering little children outside his red lit grotto. The elves too retreated red faced with wind chill following laps of the town on a horse-drawn sledge – yep Kildare style – together with Santa, his glamorous helper and Billy, a mini Shetland pony spectacularly decked out as Rudolf. Despite Santa’s numerous tours of Kildare town, wind and rain dampened folk’s curiosity as they splashed the sledge, driving past him and straight out to the Kildare Outlet, queuing up outside for other foreign stores.

French sleigh bells rang and rang. Alas, no one answered their calls. Instructions to undertake yet more circuits were issued and so the laps spiralled on and on.

C'est Rudolph! The red-nosed one pauses between rounds at the French Christmas Market in Kildare

C’est Rudolph! The red-nosed one pauses between rounds at the French Christmas Market in Kildare

A gallant ukulele player regaled folk inside the French restaurant and ventured out to serenade the solitary Christmas market browser. Singing calmed his shivering teeth. The wind swept French meringues off their tables and blotted prices off the French soups and other spreads on offer. A delightful array of French antiques, Normandy jams, compotes, war memorials plus a stash of English cherries marinated in Armagnac, to warm your cockles, remained unsold, to be repacked, unloved: French spinsters returning to their shelves un-danced, untouched.

One stall holder up since 3am baked, packed, then drove to Kildare for a pittance as locals refused to be lured by French and Irish winning wholesome products. A fresh fruit and healthy food stand arrived lid less, bar the stall holders head clad in wool. Le Skinny French Chef came to the rescue of his only retail outlet in Kildare providing a summer umbrella mantle to limit the soaking. The joys of market folk, plying their far, risking breakages, in the hope of monetary returns whilst sporting positive demeanour.

I can vouch for the cold as the French Christmas Market charity collection netted €61.12 – 5 hours’ work shared by two.

Open-air French markets are lovely reminders of one’s French holidays. With the next French one scheduled for summer, let’s hope Kildare folk venture out then to rally support for your kin and French cousins.

I leave you with this festive Irish Christmas tune “C’est Noël, C’est Noel, C’est Noël” – or is it?

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