Sunday 17 December 2017

Iconic market risks being suffocated by success

The Cork site is overwhelmed by tourist traffic

Fishmonger Pat O’Connell with Queen Elizabeth and Simon Coveney during her 2011 visit to Cork. Photo: Maxwells
Fishmonger Pat O’Connell with Queen Elizabeth and Simon Coveney during her 2011 visit to Cork. Photo: Maxwells
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

An historic market which received the royal seal of approval is now threatened with becoming a victim of its own success.

The 18th-century English Market in Cork has emerged as a major tourist attraction following the 2011 visit by Queen Elizabeth and its involvement in numerous TV travel and cookery shows. It now rivals Fota Wildlife Park, Blarney Castle and the Jameson Whiskey Heritage Centre as the top tourist draws in Cork.

However, the market has sometimes had to deal with up to 10 foreign bus tour groups in the space of just 90 minutes.

The sheer number of tourists now thronging the market on a daily basis - many of whom don't actually buy anything - is threatening to interrupt the vital flow of trade.

Cork City Council, the market's management and the English Market Traders Association are examining options to control the flow of visitors.

"We want to be very clear that tourists are very welcome to the market," fishmonger Pat O'Connell explained.

"But we are looking at ways of trying to improve the experience for visitors, while also ensuring that ordinary customers have the time and space to conduct their daily business here too.

"The market just wasn't designed and built for the numbers that we are now seeing on some summer days."

English Market traders flatly rejected suggestions that tour groups could be banned.

The options being considered are better scheduling of bus tour groups to avoid congestion and working to ensure that visitors are enticed to buy market goods.

Fáilte Ireland has already been working with traders to provide better shopping options for overseas visitors who are not in a position to purchase the fresh goods for which the market is famous.

Read more: Revealed: The most popular 'staycation' spot for Irish holidaying at home

The English Market's success stands in contrast to its plight 30 years ago, when it was almost destroyed in a fire.

A major refurbishment programme and a high-profile royal visit later, the market is now a must-see.

Queen Elizabeth's visit in May 2011 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 to the Cork market made it one of the highlights of the entire royal visit and its place in history was assured when fishmonger Pat O'Connell cracked a joke and the queen erupted in laughter.


Mr O'Connell was showing the queen his famous fish stall and was so nervous he admitted to the monarch he hadn't been so anxious since his wedding night.

The queen saw the funny side of the comment and laughed out loud.

English Market Traders Association official Tom Durcan said the royal visit was a game-changer.

"It was a great showcase for the market. We always felt the market was something extra special," he said.

The market traces its history back to 1788.

Irish Independent

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