By Lisa Marie Griffith
I visited Cork recently and it certainly lives up to its reputation for food and culture. While sampling the fares (i had to be rolled back to Dublin) I began to wonder why the Cork food market located off the main street is called ‘The English Market’? I asked many locals, staff working in the hotel where I stayed, some of the restaurants I visited and even some of those working in the stalls at the market to no avail. No one was able to tell me so when I returned home I did a little research. There has been a food market on the site since 1788 which means the English market predates Barcelona’s market ‘Boqueria’ by 80 years, surely making it one of the oldest covered food markets in Ireland if not Europe. London can claim an older out-door market than Cork in Borough Market. There has been a food market on that site continuously for 250 years although as their site points out there was a Roman Food Market around the area too. Paris can do one better for covered markets, however, and Marche des Enfants-Rouge dates to 1688.
But to get back to my point, where does the name come from? As a producer of dairy and beef products for export it was during the Napoleonic era that Cork’s trade with Britain peaked. The city was a central point for provisions for the British army which allowed the area to boom throughout the period. Nevertheless, the market pre-dates that and the area was known internationally for their exportation of these provisions (shipping as far as the Caribbean) throughout the eighteenth century when the market was founded. Surely the market was somewhere for locals to sell their produce to other city locals? I came across one possible explanation on the ‘Ask about Ireland’ website and was wondering if anyone else could shed some light, confirm or deny the explanation: The name is supposedly not official but stuck in later years. The market was where the affluent or ‘English’ in the city would shop whereas the market for the poorer city inhabitants would shop was known as the ‘Irish market’.
There is something almost food-themed about any visit to Cork (or is that just me?) and one of Cork’s more unique attractions is the Cork Butter Museum. ‘The museum explores butter, Cork’s most important food export, and places it withing a broader national history and history of the area. This provides an interesting exploration of the Irish economy and agriculture, placing Ireland in an international context. Admission prices are very reasonable, €4 full price, €3 senior student but they are doing a special throughout July, August and September and Fridays are free.
Another free stop worth a visit is The Crawford Gallery. The Harry Clarke exhibit at the Gallery focuses on his Stained Glass windows. ‘Completed on April Fool’s Day, 1924, the series of miniature panels was described as “a revel in blue” and caused a sensation when exhibited at the Royal Dublin Society that summer’ and are well worth a look. A visual delight, but its still not food- you’ll have to head to the gallery’s very nice cafe for that…