Located smack-bang in the middle of Cork city, The English Market is often listed as one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and it was made all the more famous in 2011 with a visit from Queen Elizabeth. However, we decided to feature this gem on the list of Ireland’s Travel Secrets as we felt it is a little underappreciated, though probably not by Corkonians, of course.
The market has survived revolutions, fire, famine, booms and busts and continues to be a social hub in the city, right off St. Patrick’s Street. As well as that it’s also a spectacular market. Not only is it filled with specialty foods, from handmade chocolates to spices from around the world, but you can also find every fresh staple you could possibly need for your kitchen.
The historic building is also a wonderful place to simply while away a few hours. Taking in the colorful delicious wares on sale and sampling some really delicious food. From artisan sandwiches and coffee to fresh oysters and fresh cheese, if you can’t find something you want to munch on there’s something wrong!
Of course, if you want to go really native there are a few unique traditional pieces of food on sale including drisheen (blood sausage) or a battlebord (dried salted ling – a member of the cod family). Delicious!
The origins of The English Market dates back to King James I, in 1610, but it was in 1788 that trading official began on this site.
It was in 1788 that the Cork Corporation decided to provide a covered market in the city center, following the change from outdoor to covered markets which had been happening in English cities over the last decade.
In July 1788 the market stalls were offered to rent for the sale of meat and in August the city leaders had an opening for the market, which by then included fish, fowl and vegetable markets. The Market was not officially named “The English Market,” although for much of its existence, it has retained this name to differentiate it from “The Irish Market,” close by.
Located in the city center it thrived by serving the wealthy classes. The less well-off shopped in what was known as “The Irish Market,” aka St. Peter’s Market (located on North Main Street and Cornmarket Street). Even during the Great Hunger when food among the poor classes for scarce The English Market continued to sell good quality food, and disease-free potatoes to the wealthy.
In fact, the present group of buildings were constructed in the mid-19th century with the ornamental entrance at Princes Street being constructed in 1862 by Sir John Benson. These buildings stayed relatively unchanged for the next hundred years.
In the 1920s the English Market experienced a gradual decline due to the changing fortunes of the city. By the 1960s it was modernized and by 1977 it had been fully refurbished. Sadly, in June 1980 a gas explosion on the Princes’ Street end of the market caused a major fire and the Market was destroyed. After a complete restoration, it opened its door again by the end of 1981. Then…again in 1986 another fire broke out but the damages were repaired again promptly and the market was back in action.
Tips and directions
The English Market is located on Prince’s Street, just off Cork City’s main street, Patrick Street.
It is open to the public from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday and closes on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Tourists are advised to avoid visiting during peak trading hours (between 11am and 4.30pm. Also Friday and Saturday can be quite hectic).
For more information visit www.englishmarket.ie.
* Originally published in May 2016, updated in Aug 2023.