STANDING behind their stalls, the traders at the English Market in Cork couldn’t hide their excitement as the time drew near for Queen Elizabeth to arrive.
Men tightened up their aprons, women took one last look in the mirror, children giggled and they all glanced at one another, looking for that “yes everything will be alright” reassurance.
“Ten to one, she’ll be wearing a Munster jersey.” one trader shouted out. “Na’ah that’s too Limerick. An O2 Cork jersey,” another jeered.
Generations of trading families were lined up behind stalls as nobody wanted to miss this historic occasion. The only Englishman to work in the market, John Boyling, who has run the Best Meats stall for 40 years, said he “felt so proud at how the Queen had made the market traders all work together so well”.
Pat O’Connell, of O’Connell’s fishmongers, was wiping away tears after the Queen left, overcome at “just how proud” his mother, Kay, would have been to have seen the Queen at the market.
“She started this fish stall and it was just 12-feet long. The men didn’t like her coming in at all. But she was some businesswoman. The customer was always right and so she went after what the customer wanted. She drove to Castletownbere at eight o’clock at night to get particular varieties of fish that the fish auctions in Cork didn’t have,” he said.
At Durcan’s meats, one stallholder said she was busy watching the Queen accepting her hamper when she heard a British accent ask “And where’s that from?”
She looked up to see Prince Philip at her stall checking out some black pudding.
“I told him the pudding was from Clonakilty just 30 miles down the road. I think he was embarrassed himself as he realised that I was totally taken by surprise, but he asked me about the ducks that we have hanging above the stall. They all have their heads on and he was surprised that we were allowed to do that. He was all chat. It was lovely that it was so relaxed,” she said.
Donal O’Callaghan of the Organic Garden and Paradise Garden stall said he and his family had been up all night getting their stall ready for the royal visit.
All dressed in pristine red aprons, Donal, his wife and four children were all at the stall to see history first hand.
“There was a lot of jobs that we needed to do that we got done. We painted the vegetable boxes, fixed little things that were broken and improved our shelving,” he said. All around him glistened cherries, West Cork strawberries, trays of dried fruit, radishes, asparagus, fresh ginger and bowls of bright green salad.
“This visit has been great for Ireland and today is great for Cork. It has also been great for the market as it has brought all the traders together though, all united with a group purpose”.
Just minutes after the Queen had left the traders were popping wine and champagne bottles. Mary Mulcahy was handing out wine to her staff at the Chicken Inn.
“That woman just has it. She’s got it. She’s so good humoured and warm. She just really wanted to chat to people. There were a great many stalls that she wasn’t supposed to visit today but she came over for a look. She is wonderful. I think she has the X-factor.”
By Orla Walsh
DATING as far back as 1788, the English Market has had a long history in Cork.
The market got its name because it was created by the Protestant or English corporation that controlled the city at the time.
In June 1980 the Princes Street section of the market was almost completely destroyed by a fire.
However, the previous year Cork Corporation had begun a refurbishment and so they also began rebuilding the damaged Princes Street section.
Much of the original design was saved and the Cork Corporation received a Europa Nostra award for architectural conservation.
In January 1986, the market was again significantly damaged by another fire, which meant another refurbishment.
Further improvements took place after the Irish Estates Management took over its day-to-day running in 1992. Stalls were introduced selling newer and more exotic items.
The additions have continued over the years and the market boasts a huge array of produce including ethnic foods, local meats, bread, meat, exotic fruit and vegetables and chocolate.
The English Market was recently chosen by the Observer Food Magazine as one of the top 10 food markets in Europe.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved