The £10 Challenge: Tasty bites at Manchester Irish Festival

By Sean-Paul Doran

It’s fast approaching that time of the year where people frantically search their wardrobe for anything green and wheel out the “I have a great-granny from Cork” line to anyone who’ll listen.

Yes, the day that everyone pretends to be Irish, St. Patrick’s Day, is next week and Manchester is preparing itself for one of the most colourful days in its busy calendar. So, with this in mind, who better to compile this week’s £10 challenge than MM’s resident Irishman?  

Personally, I can think of no better way to spend the £10 than on a few pints of Guinness, but that would be too easy.

The Manchester Irish Festival is running until March 18 and part of the celebrations includes a community market in the grounds of Albert Square.

The market, running from until Sunday is a must for anyone with an interest in all things Irish. From soda bread to shamrocks, Darby O’Gill DVDs to Daniel O’Donnell CDs, the 2012 Irish Festival Community Market has something for everyone. (Warning – buying a Daniel O’Donnell CD may damage your reputation).

So much to see, but only £10 to spend. I made the mistake of visiting just before lunch so I was only interested in buying items that would end up in my stomach, but there is more to this market than just the tastes of home. My favourite stall has to be the one operated by Tipperary woman, Joanne Berkery, selling miniature Irish Turf burners in a little ceramic cottage.

The smell of burning turf is about as Irish as a smell can be and a visit to this stall is highly recommended. The whole package costs £20, so it was a little over the £10 in my pocket, but the turf can be bought separately for £5.

As much as I’d love to buy it, however, I couldn’t exactly eat the turf so I set off to find my first purchase. This was a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. I made my way to a food stand and bought a packet of soda farls, a real taste of home. At £2, it was a reasonable sacrifice to make. There are other items on the stall that are worth a look; potato bread, scones and various pies will set you back between £1.50 – £4.50.

If you fancy a more mainstream meal, a nearby fast food trailer offers the usual hot dogs, burgers, chips etc. A hot dog will set you back £2.50, as will a vegetarian burger if that’s your taste.

If you’re looking for something quintessentially Irish, the arts and crafts stall is a must.  A shamrock necklace looks a bargain at just £3.99, or if necklaces aren’t for you there’s a range of beautiful brooches from £8-10.

My next stop was Flanagan’s Irish Coffee House where a tea or a coffee costs £1.50, a little steep for a caffeine fix but my Barry’s tea definitely hit the spot. This stand was located a little too close to O’Brien’s Bar for my liking, putting the idea of a midday pint into my head but for the sake of my career I swerved the beer tent.

As cries of, “shamrocks here!” rang out in the air with a distinctive Dublin twang, I took a look at the stand with the oversized hats and ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ ties. There are few authentically Irish products in this stand, where a pot of shamrocks will set you back £1.50, but this stall was filled with the type of novelty items that foreign tourists will lap up.

A stall of Irish DVDs and CDs was my next destination, with a Christy Moore song blaring from the speakers, and I was greeted by a collection of Mrs Brown’s Boys DVDs.

I’m probably not the best person to discuss this particular hit comedy, as I seem to be the only person I know who doesn’t find it hilarious, but there’s no doubt it’s popular. With the stall confusingly carrying prices in Euros, you’ll find something here ranging from £7 to £20.

Hopefully your £10 will be long gone before you leave this little corner of Ireland situated in the middle of Manchester, but there are plenty of ways to spend any loose change you might have.

A box of Irish fudge for £2, a £2 deck of Irish playing cards or a pack of soda farls aren’t going to break the bank.

And if none of this sounds appealing at all, I’d go back to the pint of Guinness.

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