A Galway tradition

In Hely Dutton’s Survey of Galway in 1824, he reported; “The vegetable market 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 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.”

About that time, the turf market used to take place in Market Street too, a report in the Galway Vindicator for December 15 1849 stated; “There was a moderate supply of grain at market today; they have advanced today in price – barley from 4d to 6d per barrel; oats about 1d per stone; wheat was not advanced in price but the demand was good for milling samples. All grain at market seems to have suffered from the late severe weather.”

The Great Famine had not quite gone away but this report tells us that even in the darkest hours of that catastrophe, the weekly market went ahead.

The Saturday market is one of the great Galway traditions, one of the constant features of life in this city, a meeting of town and country. The donkey and cart was the traditional form of transport, though many would have walked, especially the women who came in to sell their eggs, butter, and knitted socks. The produce on offer may have changed, but the essential character of the market remains the same. It is full of colour, movement, smells and aromas, haggling in Galway accents.

In December 1962, eggs were selling at 14 shillings per score when 20 members of the Catholic Mother’s Co-operative Association appeared on the scene with banners bearing the slogan ‘Housewives, Stick Together Now: Join us in the Fight for a Fair Price for Eggs, 10 Shillings a Score’. Within an hour the price had gone to 10 shillings. The association threatened protests if the price of turkeys, etc, got too high.

In March, 1967, history was made and tradition broken when the market was not held for the first time in living memory because of a National Framers’ Association (NFA ) commodity strike. A 78-year old Spiddal man was selling cabbage and said, “I have been coming here since 1901 when I came with my mother first and I never saw the likes of this.”

Our photograph was taken in 1938 by Caoimhín Ó Danachair and is one of the many wonderful images recently put online by the Irish Folklore Commission which can be seen on the website www.duchas.ie The names on the shops are Jordan Victualler and Hoare’s Fibrous Slabs.

They are surrounded by dereliction. The posters on the wall on the left are interesting, advertising a dance in Commercial Boat Club, films in the Town Hall and the Savoy, dancing in The Saloon in Eyre Square during Race Week, an excursion to Aran, Young’s Bass and Guinness, etc.



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