The Saturday market

The following observations of a Galway Saturday 100 years ago were made in a book entitled The Charm of Ireland by Burton E Stevenson which was published in 1915.

“We found the streets crowded for it was Saturday and so, market day, and the country folk had gathered in from many miles around. The men were for the most part buttoned up in cutaways of stiff frieze, almost as hard and as unyielding as iron; and the women, almost without exception, wore bright red skirts, made of fuzzy homespun flannel, which they had themselves woven from wool dyed with the rich crimson of madder. The shaggier the flannel, the more it is esteemed, and some of the skirts we saw had a nap a half inch deep. They are made very full and short, somewhat after the fashion of the Dutch, but the resemblance ends there, for most of these women were barefooted, and strode about with a disregard of cobbles and sharp paving stones which proved the toughness of their soles.

“The countrywomen ranged along the curb with great baskets in front of them containing eggs and butter and other products of the farm. How far they had walked that morning, carrying those heavy burdens, I did not like to ask, but we met one later who had eight miles to go before she would be home again. A few had carts drawn by little grey donkeys; and the old woman sitting in one of these was so typical that I wanted to get her picture. She was sitting there watching the crowds with her elbows on her knees, and a chicken in her hands, but when she saw me unlimbering my camera, she shook her head menacingly, so I asked a quaint looking old man if I might take his picture. “You may and welcome” he said. “Look at the ould saftie standin there to get his picter took” she shouted, and she went on to say other, presumably less complimentary things in Irish. If you look at our photograph, you can almost see the scornful invective issuing from her lips.

“Eggs are sold by the score and the price that day was one shilling and two pence which is not as cheap as one would expect in a country where wages are so low. Perhaps it is only labour that is cheap in Ireland.

“One row of women were offering for sale a kind of seaweed, whose Celtic name, as they pronounced it, I could not catch, but which in English they called dillisk; a red weed which they assured us they had gathered from the rocks along the beach that very morning, and which many were buying and stuffing into their mouths and chewing with great relish. It did not look especially inviting, but the women insisted, with much laughter, that we sample it and we finally did, somewhat gingerly. The only taste I detected was that of salt water in which it had been soaked; but it is supposed to be very healthy, and to be especially efficacious in straightening out a man who has had a drop too much. No matter how tangled his legs might be, so the women assured us, a few mouthfuls of dillisk will set him right again and no man with a pocketful of dillisk was ever known to go astray or spend a night in a ditch.”

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