The boss man here at the Irish Farmers Journal is always mindful of getting a good geographical spread of stories.

So, when I asked around for the best Santa experience to feature in Connacht, I was duly directed to Westport.

Travelling with small children from south Kilkenny to Westport is a solid 3.5- to four-hour spin, taking food and toilet breaks into consideration. You might say: “Sure it’s madness to go all the way up there for a Santa. Was it worth it?” Although my bad back and physiotherapist Stephen O’Rourke (see here for his article Is spinal surgery my only option?) would probably argue no – I say yes it was.

For the 11th year running, Westport House is hosting Santa. To account for COVID-19, Santa meets children individually which gives extra special one-on-one time with the main man himself in his Grotto in the outdoor Tinsel Town on the grounds of the beautiful estate.

I remember going to see Santa when I was a little girl and those precious few minutes with the man in red to make the necessary excuses for any bad behaviour over the course of the year. In those days you got to do this explaining without an audience. I had noticed that the group visit had become more commonplace in recent years. I am sure that this is down to the pressures of business and running such events.

I do, however, think that this private confessional time with Santa is a better experience for children.

Santa himself was definitely a highlight of the trip west. A “character” being the most apt description. You know in a kid’s movie, when writers will weave in a little bit of adult dialogue to keep the parents entertained? The Lego Movie or Zootopia are prime examples and probably have as many adult jokes as they have jokes for kids. Well our Santa in Westport was definitely a fan of this particular brand of humour raising a number of political concerns with the “children”. Such concerns included firstly that with an increasing number of vegans, carrots for the reindeer could be in short supply and second that life was more difficult with chimneys a thing of the past with the Green Party (disclaimer: I am not sure that they are solely to blame for this).

On the environmental side, he did welcome the banning of smoky coal, a bugbear in his particular line of work. You can read about all five of the teams Santa experiences here.

Walking around the beautiful Westport House you can see how the estate has changed with each passing generation. Of the “big houses” that remain, many are open to the public but have had to diversify away from simply showcasing the historical significance of a house to offering a range of amenities. Westport House is no different. It is fortunate though that a local family embedded in the region are investing in its future.

The Hughes family, who own the workwear brand Portwest, bought the house in 2017 and considerable renovation works are under way. Their plan is to “ensure the sustainability and viability of the house and estate into the future”. The importance of these two words being uttered simultaneously will be crucial as the latter is needed to secure the former.

With a new COVID-19 variant disappointingly raising its head, a little festive cheer is warranted. If you are looking at getting your tree this weekend, Ilka has all the details on what the most sustainable tree choice is. Furthermore, you can learn about what it takes to get a real tree into your home every year from grower Fintan Riordan, who is featured on the cover this week.

Hello December.