Cork’s food market might still be known as the English Market but it specializes in local Irish food. Along with some international flavors, the two-story covered market, officially made up of the Princes Street Market and Grand Parade Market, dishes out fresh produce, hot meals, and gourmet ingredients, Monday through Saturday.
Here our guide on how to visit and get a taste of the English Market in Cork for yourself.
The English Market has been a part of Cork’s city center since the 1780s. At the time, Ireland was a part of the British Empire and the English corporation which was in power in Cork was responsible for building the market, which officially opened on August 1, 1788.
In 1840, when a Catholic majority was now present in Cork, the new local government built another covered market on Cornmarket Street. This market was officially known as St. Peter’s Market. However, the name “English Market” stuck as a way to distinguish the older food hall from the St. Peter’s Market which was casually referred to as the “Irish Market.”
In the 18th and 19th centuries, markets were incredibly important for Cork’s economy. The rich farmland around the city and the sheltered city harbor meant that Cork was in the perfect location to export meat and other foods. The markets in Cork soon became known around the world for the quality of their food (especially Cork butter) and their clean, well-run buildings, such as the English Market.
For the first several years, the English Market stalls only sold meat, but the market soon expanded to offer fish and fresh produce.
The Irish Market no longer exists (Bodega Bar now stands in its place) but the popularity of the historic English Market has endured over the centuries. In fact, the market has survived famines and rebellions, but it was seriously damaged by fire in the 1980s.
First was the massive fire caused by a gas explosion on June 19, 1980. The Princes Street Market was almost completely destroyed. Luckily, the Cork Corporation chose to undertake a careful restoration of the beautiful Victorian building. The upstairs area was converted into a café with seating, while the rest of the market remained relatively unchanged. The award-winning restoration of the English Market modernized the historic brick building without erasing its most charming original features.
Another fire in 1986 destroyed 8 stalls, but the damage was minimal compared to the fire a few years earlier. Trading soon resumed and continues today.
What to See and How to Visit
The English Market is the iconic place to shop for food in Cork, but it is more than a simple food market. The market is a reflection of the city, full of busy activity and friendly faces. It is an excellent place to see when exploring the city in order to shop for local ingredients or simply to people watch. The two-level brick market is also one of the best examples of Victorian architecture in Cork, and many visitors stop by to admire the style and design.
Traders inside the English Market sell everything from local seafood to international spices and sauces. There are also butchers, delis, and bakers located at various stalls inside the market. Shoppers can find everything to create a typical Irish meal at home, pick up provisions for a picnic, find food souvenirs, or sit down for a light meal.
For a taste of the local food, ask for a table at Farmgate Restaurant cafe. The eatery can be found in the upper gallery and sells dishes made with ingredients purchased from the buzzing stalls below.
The market doors are open to the public between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday (though keep in mind that some of the sellers inside the market keep slightly different hours and this can vary from vendor to vendor). You can find the main entrance on Princes Street, in the heart of Cork City’s center.
Things to Do Nearby
The Blarney Castle, with its famous Blarney Stone, is located just outside of Cork City. It is undoubtedly one of the best castles in Ireland – as well as one of the most popular. The stone towers date back to the 15th century, and it has long been believed that hanging over the side to kiss one of the stones atop the castle will give you the Irish gift of the gab.
After a few historical stops, kids will love a chance to wander through Fota, a nearby wildlife park.
To see the absolute tip of Ireland, drive to Mizen Head. The promontory is the most southwesterly point in all of Ireland and in addition to sweeping sea views you can also walk along the famous footbridge and visit the station house that played an important role in the development of transatlantic cable lines.