The origins of the centuries-old Saturday market are lost in the mists of time. It was always held in front of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, which was the only open space in the old walled town. Two hundred years ago, James Hardiman, in his history, was writing that, “The town is well supplied with vegetables … the green gardeners cultivate a considerable quantity of ground and keep a considerable supply of remarkable fine-flavoured fruit and vegetables.” At the same time, Hely Dutton, in his survey, was writing, “The vegetable market kept near the Main Guard is generally well supplied, and at reasonable rates; all kinds come to the market washed, by which any imperfection is easily detected. The cabbage raised near the sea side on seaweed is particularly delicious; those who have been used to those cultivated on ground highly manured, cannot form any idea of the difference. There are also, in season, peaches, strawberries, gooseberries, apples, pears etc.”
The fruit and vegetable market is synonymous with Galway, one of the constant features of life in the city. The days of all Galway accents, of the donkeys and carts, of live chickens and turkeys, may have gone but the essential character of the market remains the same — colour, movement, smells, haggling, the coming together of town and country, a location where a shopping expedition can turn into a social occasion.
“The small farmers in the vicinity of the town, but particularly those in the West Liberties and for some miles along the sea coast principally supply the town with milk, butter, and eggs and sometimes, dillisk.” This part of the market was usually held along Church Street, and is featured in our sketch today which illustrates the hustle and bustle and which first appeared in The Graphic in December, 1879. Local newspapers regularly reported on the prices at the market.
The Corn Market was originally held on Market Street, but about the year 1820 they moved it to ‘the little green near Meyrick Square’.
There were of course other markets in Galway. In 1802, “An extensive meat market was erected near William’s Gate, partly on the site of the Upper Citadel, which was shortly beforehand demolished. A spacious entrance leads from the public street to this market which is conveniently fitted up with shedded stalls, benches etc, where butcher’s meat of every description is daily exposed for sale…”
“Previously to the year 1800, the Fish Market was held at the east end of the bridge [Bridge Street], a circumstance which proved no inconsiderable annoyance to the public, the passages being frequently impeded and the smell and the filth often insupportable. At length, General Meyrick … induced some of the inhabitants to enter into a subscription … and a convenient site on one of the quays near the river was chosen where it [the market] was soon after erected. The market contains several sheds, a pump, a porter’s lodge etc.”
There was a regular potato market held at the Small Crane and another in Woodquay, and there were turf markets in Eyre Square and at the junction of Raven Terrace and the Claddagh. In addition, boats laden with turf arrived almost daily at the ship-quay from Connemara and an immense quantity was brought down the lake to Woodquay. In the time before motorised transport, there was an occasional hay market in the Square, and there was a sock market in Eglinton Street and another in the Square where women sold socks they had knitted.
Listen to Tom Kenny and Ronnie O'Gorman elaborating on topics they have covered in this week's paper and much more in this week's Old Galway Diary Podcast.