Cork's Food Markets

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  • Food and Farming

Cork's Markets - Beginnings

Markets have always existed in Cork. In 1299, The Sheriff of Cork listed thirty-six markets and market towns in and around Cork city. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Cork began to boom. Although the city had many shops, markets remained an important factor in Cork life.

At this time, special markets for the sale of meat, fish, corn and other produce were developed. Many tradesmen, including carpenters, bakers and goldsmiths, were organising themselves into societies called 'guilds'. From 1690, all Catholics were excluded from guilds and apprenticeships and were also restricted in trading. Therefore, those who prospered from trade were mainly Protestants.

Cork's Markets - Development

The building of markets in Cork happened partly to secure income for the city's corporation. However, the markets were also important in protecting the health of the population. Before market-places existed, it was common for tradespeople to slaughter animals on the street. This created hygiene problems, leaving the local population vulnerable to disease. Purpose-built meat markets, which became common in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were called 'shambles' or 'flesh shambles'. In the late seventeenth century, Cork city centre had two shambles. There were two other shambles on the outskirts of the city.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were also fish markets in Cork. Although milk was sold door to door, there were also at least four milk markets in the city. In the 1700s, potatoes became the main food of the poor in Ireland. There are records of two potato markets in the city on maps of the period.

Maps from the eighteenth-century also show that there was a corn market at the junction of Castle Street and Cornmarket Street. A new corn market was built on Anglesea Street in 1833. There were many other markets, including herb markets, cloth markets, fowl markets and fruit and apple markets. There were also many hawkers and casual street sellers on the streets of Cork. These were often regarded as a nuisance by the authorities, and attempts were made to move them to the marketplaces.

The city authorities built and improved the markets, and in turn made an income from rents on stalls and tolls collected on goods. At that time, there was a type of toll called gateage, which was collected on goods that were carried into the city to be sold. The manner in which these tolls were collected was often regarded as unfair, and the system for doing so was often corrupt. This often resulted in violence in the streets.