Cork City’s independent retail and foodie scenes are thriving, with home-grown talent serving the city the best of the best. Its bustling markets are an excellent way to experience this, from the stately Victorian splendour of the English Market to the reliably brilliant weekly gatherings of county-wide growers and producers.
The farmers’ markets
County Cork has an ever-increasing abundance of quality local producers, and the farmers’ markets in and around the city centre bring many of them together in one spot for your perusing pleasure. It’s worth noting that the small businesses that frequent the markets will occasionally have to take a week off, so do check individual websites and/or Instagram accounts for updates beforehand if you have your heart set on a particular treat.
Coal Quay Market
Following a €4m redevelopment, the pedestrianised area of Coal Quay allows plenty of space to browse and linger. This historic district is home to the building that once housed St. Peter’s Market – now The Bodega, which is a bar – aka the ‘Irish’ version of the beloved English Market. Held every Saturday morning, Coal Quay Market is especially good for fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers. Flow and comfort were priorities in the redesign of the space, with plenty of street benches to encourage chatting and people-watching.
The fruit and veg on offer here are second to none, with dirt-clad carrots and multicoloured squash from local farmers putting tidy, uniform supermarket offerings to shame. You can also pick up creamy goat’s milk and crumbly cheese from Orchard Cottage Dairy Farm, or try fresh apple juice or small-batch cider vinegar from Mealagulla Orchard. For prepared goods, My Goodness Food certainly delivers on their promise of ‘food to make you feel good’ with a wide variety of raw vegan salads, smoothies and treats, as well as probiotic wonders such as kefir and kombucha.
Also held on Saturday mornings, this farmers’ market just outside Douglas Village shopping centre is an ideal spot to while away a weekend morning. Douglas is one of the largest suburbs of Cork city, just a quick bus ride away. In 2016, this market expanded from mid-November onwards to host a Christmas market every Friday afternoon, so keep your eyes peeled for these if you’re in Cork for the festive period.
Courtesy of Douglas Farmers Market
But first, coffee. Before you explore the rest of the market, stop by Badger & Dodo artisan coffee roasters based out of Fermoy in County Cork. Their seasonally rotating offerings reflect their focus on fresh crops – try the Summer Daze blend for floral notes and a hint of chocolate and pear. Another highlight is The Rocket Man, which started out at farmers’ markets in 2012 and now has two thriving brick-and-mortar salad and juice bars in the city. For a sinless pudding, the Bean Brownie Company makes ‘healthier baked goods’ by sneaking wholesome ingredients into their treats without compromising on taste. Treat yourself to one of their ‘wow pies’ – whoopie pies of chewy bean-based brownies filled with chocolate whey protein buttercream.
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Mahon Point Farmers’ Market
Held in the car park of the ever-popular Mahon Point shopping centre, this Thursday market has been running for 12 years and continues to go from strength to strength, with around 50 stalls of gourmet goodies regularly pitching up. The spacious lot makes for a relaxed browsing experience, and it’s well worth the quick bus trip from the city centre if you need a mid-week market fix. Mahon lies just between the city centre and the airport, so this is also a great option for a last-minute brunch or gift shopping trip before catching a flight.
Courtesy of Mahon Point Farmers Market
Mahon is the only market near the city centre currently frequented by Little Green Leaf, producers of vegan cheeses you would never guess are lacking in dairy – try the smoked garlic and black pepper cheddar. They even sell kits for you to make your own at home, and their beautiful packaging makes them very gift-able. Gubbeen is better known for their cheeses, but they also bring seasonal delights from their chemical-free garden, increasingly experimenting with fermented food and drinks. We recommend the small-batched brews of jamu – a nutrient-dense elixir supercharged with ginger, tamarind and turmeric.
The English Market is somewhat hidden away, obscured from view except for a modest decorative entrance on Princes Street. However, you would struggle to find a Cork resident who doesn’t know it. The first stalls on the site referred to by this name were completed in 1788, but the Princes Street market addition, which brought the market’s layout closely in line with its current form, was finished in 1862. In its first century, the market mostly served the wealthy English settlers in the city, with a special constable and beagles on security during the Great Famine to keep the starving out.
During the 1900s, the market became increasingly more tailored to a mixed, working-class customer base, with cheaper cuts of meat and specialities such as drisheen (a type of blood pudding) on offer. Today, well-established multi-generational businesses anchor the space, such as the well-loved A. O’Reilly & Sons – who have been trading tripe and sausages here for around 90 years – or fifth-generation butchers Coughlan Meats, while an ever-evolving roster of new talent reflects Cork’s innovative foodie scene.
The social dynamics here give visitors an insight into the fabric of Cork’s vibrant community – stallholders are genuinely interested in passersby and happy to impart their wisdom, all peppered with Cork humour. This familiar and welcoming tone combined with the gastronomic delights on offer makes for an experience somehow greater than the sum of its parts, a must for any visitor to the city. In the lofty mezzanine, in the Farmgate cafe (in the picture below), you can sample the best of what’s on offer from the market in sympathetically restored surroundings while catching snippets of the traders’ banter wafting up from below.
If you get tired of food markets, Mother Jones Flea Market in the city’s newly branded Victorian Quarter is a stable-style weekend indoor market offering all the vintage goods your heart may desire. Each stall holder has their own niche, and these themed nooks cover everything from ditsy-print china to vinyl to comics to up-cycled furniture. The on-site cafe is an excellent spot to take a break if your purchases are weighing you down, and there’s a chance you might get treated to some free live music here too, as they sometimes hold jazz sessions on a Sunday or have local bands drop in. There are also special events; there have been céilís (traditional Irish group dances) held here as part of the East Cork Early Music Festival the past few years.