The English Market

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  • Food and Farming

A Short History

Cork's most famous food market, the English Market, was opened in 1788. Cork Corporation decided to provide covered food markets at the centre of the city, influenced by the change from open to covered markets that had occurred in English cities in the previous decades. The English Market was not the official name for the market, though for much of its existence the group of markets was popularly called by this name. The market served the prosperous of Cork city and was situated in the area where Cork's wealthy worked and lived.

In July 1788, several stalls were offered for rent for the sale of meat. In August, the city fathers had an opening ceremony for the new market. Fish, fowl and vegetable markets were created to accompany the meat stalls. Although the agricultural land of County Cork provided much of the market's fare, there were market gardens on the outskirts of the city, in areas such as Blackrock and Friar's Walk, that supplied vegetables and fruit.

The English Market was praised by many in the early nineteenth century. However, it served only the prosperous of the city. The less well off shopped in what was known as the 'Irish Market', St. Peter's Market, which had entrances on North Main Street and Cornmarket Street. Food prices were lower in the Irish Market than in the English Market. Even during the Famine, when poor Irish people did not have enough food to eat because of a potato blight, the English Market was selling good-quality, disease-free potatoes to the city's wealthy.

The English Market experienced a gradual decline from the 1920s, mainly due to the changing fortunes of Cork city. In the 1960s, the market was modernised, and a major refurbishment took place in 1977. However, in June 1980 a gas explosion in the Princes Street end of the market caused a major fire, and the market was destroyed. Despite this major setback, the market was completely restored and opened again at the end of 1981. A second, less serious fire took place in 1986 but the damage was repaired promptly.

Going Organic

The 1990s saw an upturn in the fortunes of the English Market. With increased prosperity, Irish people became more adventurous about food. A new interest in organic and locally produced food provided fresh opportunities for traders.

With its produce now affordable for most, the English Market is now seen as one of Cork's major attractions, and is used extensively by locals and tourists alike. Today, it sells a range of foodstuffs, from traditional Cork fare to exotic foodstuffs from far-flung parts of the globe.

The Organic Shop, English Market, Cork
Cork City Libraries.

Organic food is food that is grown and produced without the aid of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and chemicals. Organic farming helps to protect the environment by keeping the soil rich and reducing pollution levels.

The Organic Shop in the English Market sells fruit and vegetables and organic meat. Various other food stalls in the market sell organic foodstuffs. In the English market, you can buy everything from organic fish to organic chocolate!