Best wishes to Queen from Rebel County
IT'S the heart of the Rebel county but the traders at Cork's English Market are sending Queen Elizabeth best wishes for her diamond jubilee.
A major refurbishment programme and the high-profile royal visit mean that Cork's English Market is threatening to supplant Blarney Castle and Fota Wildlife Park as Leeside's number-one tourist attraction.
The visit by Queen Elizabeth to the market in May last year is now commemorated by a special plaque erected by Cork City Council and a plethora of photographs of the British monarch touring the market stalls.
The warmth of her reception made it one of the highlights of the entire visit. Worldwide coverage of the market was assured when fishmonger Pat O'Connell cracked a joke and the Queen erupted in laughter -- a photo that was beamed around the world.
Mr O'Connell was showing the Queen his famous fish stall and was so nervous that he admitted to her he hadn't been this on edge since his wedding night.
The Queen saw the funny side of the comment -- and laughed out loud.
A photograph capturing the moment became symbolic of the first royal visit to Ireland in 100 years and made the front pages of newspapers across the globe.
A special signed copy of the photo was then presented to the monarch at Buckingham Palace last Christmas.
For Pat O'Connell, the visit was the best thing that ever happened to the market.
Some estimate the numbers visiting the market are up by 30 per cent since 2010.
"It is incredible, the number of people that visit the market, ask about the Queen's tour and stop to look at the photos we have displayed of it," Pat told the Sunday Independent.
The visit also meant a lot to the Queen, who took the trouble last December of sending Pat a Christmas card with a special 'thank you' note.
English Market Traders Association chairman Tom Durcan said visitor numbers were up and business had definitely been boosted by the high-profile royal visit.
"It was a great showcase for the market -- we always felt the market was something extra special and now people worldwide, and especially in the UK, are aware of that too," he said.
To further exploit the international profile of the market, Mr Durcan and a number of other Cork food traders participated in a major Dutch food fair last April -- and they expect the boost in visitor numbers and trade to continue into 2013-2014.
Former Cork Business Association president James O'Sullivan said modern tourists wanted a unique visitor experience -- and that that is precisely what the English Market offers.
"I don't think you can put a value on the Queen's visit, Cork will be reaping the benefits of this for years to come," he added.
The English Market traces its history back to 1788. It suffered a major fire in 1980, which gutted major portions of the facility, but Cork City Council was determined to repair it.
The refurbishment programme proved so successful that by the 1990s Britain's prestigious Observer food magazine ranked it as one of the top 10 food centres in Europe.
From its roots as a beef, chicken, fish and dairy market, the centre has now gone on to develop a gourmet food profile, boasting artisan producers and an award-winning restaurant.
The market's 'olde world'
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feel was also instrumental in helping Cork city secure listing on the Lonely Planet's top 10 places to visit in 2010.
While references to the English Market date back to 1788, the current market's open-plan structure dates to 1862, when Sir John Benson redesigned the facility at Princes Street.
The market won a Europa Nostra design award on its reopening and the late UK chef, Keith Floyd, described it as one of the "true jewels" in the crown of the Irish food sector.