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2005-07-05 Markree Country Fair

On the 16th and 17th July 2005, Markree Castle will host Sligo's first ever traditional "Game and Country Fair" - in fact the first of its kind ever in the West of Ireland.

 

For two days, on the fertile banks of the Unshin River, just outside Collooney, people will be able to enjoy everything from medieval jousting in a medieval village, falconry displays with eagles and kestrels, archery and clay-pigeon shooting, to sheepdog trials, gundog trials, fly-casting demonstrations and a polocrosse match.

 

For the children, a painting competition in several age categories - "My Day at Markree Country Fair" - will be judged by Francis Boylan from RTE 2's "The Den". Puppet shows, bouncy castles, pet-dog-shows and pony-club games are also on offer for the younger attendee.

 

A Food Festival with farmer's markets, and stalls promoting local Irish food will be part of an extensive Shopping Village. Live military band-music will fill the air, while hot-air balloons drift high above the show gardens and `Gardening Bonanza' exhibitions.

 

A `Sustainable Living' display will attempt to showcase all the green and environmentally-friendly options available to today's consumer. Entry fee to the Country Fair is a mere ¬10 (Children are half-price) and parking is free.

 

All details are available either by calling Camilla on 071  9133111, or by having a peek at www.enterprisemarkree.com - an apt website name for a most enterprising venture by Markree's owner Charles Cooper.

 

Markree Castle is Sligo's oldest inhabited castle. Edward Cooper was a young officer under Oliver Cromwell, when Cromwell invaded Ireland - `to hell or to Connacht' and all that. When the Chief of the O'Brien clan was defeated and killed, Edward Cooper ended up marrying his widow! When King James later attempted to regain the British throne, the Cooper family were forced to temporarily flee Markree. By the end of the 17th Century, the family was back, and back to stay.

 

A large proportion of Markree Castle, as we know it today, dates from 1802. The Coopers always seemed to be politically involved , and actually opposed `The Act of Union' at Westminster in the early 19th Century - perhaps some of that O'Brien fire living on in the Cooper/O'Brien union. Charles' grandfather - Bryan Cooper - was elected as a T.D. to the first Dali independence in 1922. When Markree opened its doors as a hotel in the 1980s, this part of Sligo's rich history was at last on display for all to see.

 

For years, we had enjoyed Charles Cooper's tantalisingly adventurous cuisine at Knockmuldowney restaurant in Ballisodare and later at Culleenamore, but now we were able to savour his highly-praised culinary delights in the sublime rococo-dining-room setting of his family's ancestral home. In the days when restaurant competition has become at times a struggle for survival, and the dining experience has moved to a whole new level, Markree's Chef Sara Treadgold continues to spread Markree's fine name abroad as a top-class restaurant to be truly reckoned with (Booking is advisable).

 

Set in acres of tranquil gardens and the greenest of parkland, Markree Castle can also act as a fairy-tale wedding location. My sister and her husband began their life together at Markree. An unconsecrated on-site chapel can offer the chance to have your marriage `blessed', if you so desire. A monumental stone staircase (ideal for that group photo) from ground level leads up to the main entrance hall (there is also lift access), from where a second staircase of carved wood leads further to the guestrooms.

 

A minstrel's gallery above the main reception area is one of my favourite features of the Castle. Half-way up the staircase, a spectacular stained-glass window depicts the Cooper family-tree.

 

One of the most popular events in the Markree calendar has to be Santa's Yuletide arrival, and ensuing distribution of gifts from underneath the giant glistening Christmas tree by the roaring log- fire.

 

Markree Castle also continues to build its reputation as an intimate acoustic-friendly concert venue - I speak from experience. Local musical legend James Blennerhassett has also just enjoyed great success in Markree. Forthcoming appearances include one by the ever- popular Steve Wickham.

 

For more information, have a look at www.markreecastle.ie, or call 071  9167800. However, in the meantime, pop along on July 16th and 17th, and enjoy Sligo's first ever traditional `Country Fair'.