Friday 18 October 2019

John Daly: 'Sit back and enjoy market soap opera'

 

Cork’s beating heart is a soap opera that’s run for centuries, and a realisation that one is just a passing player remains the golden rule among this troupe of travelling players. Stock image
Cork’s beating heart is a soap opera that’s run for centuries, and a realisation that one is just a passing player remains the golden rule among this troupe of travelling players. Stock image

John Daly

You can't beat people- watching. Whether it's a sidewalk table in Paris, a sun-drenched terrace in Madrid or a hip outdoor café in New York's SoHo, the simple pleasure of watching the world go by is an indulgent delight shared by all of us.

This very notion occurred to me last weekend, perched in my prime position stool at the Farmgate Café, idly inspecting the wonderful chaos that is Saturday at the Old English Market. As much a part of the city as the Shandon Steeple or the Father Matthew statue, this ancient Victorian edifice at Cork's geographical heart remains a soulful part of every local's essential character.

"When I think of Cork, it is always summer in the leafy shade of the Mardyke or Inniscarra's glistening waters," wrote Frank O'Connor. "And the din of the English Market's thousand bleating voices as we walked homewards laden with new potatoes and spiced beef."

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Sipping an umpteenth cappuccino, the heritage of Cork nomenclature stretched forth around me - McCarthy, Burke, Moynihan, Durkan and O'Donnell.

Beneath me a French couple perused a beef joint at Coughlans; a Croatian mother eyed the hampers at the Roughty Fruit King; a pair of blood-stained butcher's boys debated the genius of Liverpool soccer; and a trio of Montenotte dowagers haggled down the price of prawns - all exuberant extras upon the stage where the city's daily bread is broken.

While the 'bent auld shawlies' of Frank O'Connor's youth have long since passed to the great stall in the sky, this commercial crossroads continues to entertain, like a gourmet fashion show performed for my Saturday pleasure as the passing hours witness the ebb and flow of humanity intent on finding their heart's desire.

"The market is definitely a kind of theatre where you never know what role you'll be playing on a given day," says Pat O'Connell, the man famous for forcing a hearty guffaw from the queen.

Like all such places around the world, the market is a surface barometer of the city's commercial and cultural health, while underneath representing an emotional haven of stubborn resilience to the turbulent vicissitudes of life.

"The local people have always been the lifeblood of this place and no matter how trendy it has become over the decades, you find out very quickly how important local trade is when times are bad," Pat opines.

"It was like a light went out when the Ford and Dunlop factories closed back in the 1980s, but they still came to shop here - it wasn't so much about the fish but a place to share the troubles, to talk about it."

In its microcosm of the city, life in the Old English Market's 12-hour days are a life calling learned in the front line of commerce, rather than a lecture hall in UCC.

Cork's beating heart is a soap opera that's run for centuries, and a realisation that one is just a passing player remains the golden rule among this troupe of travelling players.

The barista catches my eye and I give the thumbs up for yet another cappuccino. Sure, it's only the interval - the second act is bound to be even better.

A famine of chefs

Got a yen to channel your inner Anthony Bourdain, imitate Jamie Oliver's cheeky hi-jinks or fulminate like Gordon Ramsay? Ireland is experiencing a massive shortage of chefs, with an estimated 10,000 positions going a-begging at present.

It's a tough career, undoubtedly, but one with great prospects in a country becoming a bigger international foodie destination every passing year.

And the perks are pleasant. "I enjoy cooking with wine," declared the great Julia Child. "Sometimes I even put it in the food."

Irish Independent

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