Apple, raspberry or rhubarb tart, strawberries and cream, or fresh gooseberry jam on home-baked bread – the tastes of summer in Ireland are in full flavor. And one of the best places to find these treats is at a local farmers market. Not only will you get to meet the food grower or producer first-hand, but you will also find the fresh-from-the-farm prices very appealing. Stop for a snack or pick up the makings of a picnic. A farmers market is your best source.
It’s no wonder that farmers markets are fast becoming tourist attractions. Visitors love to indulge in sweetly ripened fruits, farmhouse cheeses, or a fresh-baked pie or scone. Almost every city, town and village in Ireland has a market at least once a week in the growing season, and sometimes all year. Most markets take place rain or shine outdoors in a town square or park, but a few are held indoors. The majority are on Fridays or Saturdays, but some happen on other days or all week. Here is a round-up of my Top 10 favorite markets:
Cork’s English Market is the grand-daddy of Irish markets, trading as a market since 1788, a vintage multi-wing building (off Patrick St., the city’s main thoroughfare, with entrances on Prince’s St., Grand Parade, and Oliver Plunkett St.). Browse amid the colorful stands brimming with fruits and vegetables, seafood, cheese, pasta, olives and handmade chocolates, as well as traditional Cork meats such as tripe (animal stomach), crubeens (pigs’ feet) and drisheen (local blood sausage). There are also stands for soups, salads, fresh-squeezed juices and exotic coffees. Browse or buy, sip or sample, or just listen to the Cork accents and banter. It’s a great experience. Open Monday-Saturday, www.corkenglishmarket.ie
St. George’s Market in Belfast is another indoor old-timer, built between 1890 and 1896. It has won numerous awards for fresh local produce and great atmosphere. There are often jazz bands or other musical combos playing in the center of the market to add to the festive ambiance. The market is open with a “variety” theme on Friday, with over 240 stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meat and fish as well as antiques, books and clothes. On Saturdays, there’s a food and garden market, with a huge range of local, continental, and specialty foods including meat, fish, cheese, teas and coffees, tapas, French pastries, crepes, and organic products, as well as crafts, flowers, plants and artwork. Last month, a Sunday market was added with a blend of produce from the other two days plus local arts and crafts. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, www.belfastcity.gov.uk/stgeorgesmarket.
The Galway Market on Church Lane next to the landmark St. Nicholas Church in Galway City is another “oldie,” claiming to have been in existence for centuries. Rain or shine, vendors sell a great variety of food from international favorites such as curries, crepes, falafel, hummus, pasta and sushi, to locally-baked breads, donuts and muffins, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables and cheeses. There are also arts, crafts, jewelry and clothes stalls. Saturday and Sunday; there is also a Christmas Market every day from 14th to 24th December with more crafts and less fruits and vegetables; www.galwaymarket.com.
Milk Market at Cornmarket Row, Limerick City, dates back over 150 years when it operated on Saturdays as one of many weekly markets (others were for pigs, potatoes, corn, cattle, hay etc.), and the only one that survived and thrives today. Over the years, the produce at the Milk Market expanded beyond milk, butter and cream to include fruits and vegetables as well as homemade breads, gourmet cheeses, cakes, flowers and plants. In the past few years, the market has been redeveloped as a covered all-weather market space with 21 permanent shops as well as the market trading area with 50 stalls. It has become a haven for foodies with a wide choice of artisan “food to go.” Friday, Saturday, Sunday (the shops open Wednesday-Sunday), www.milkmarketlimerick.ie.
Moore Street Market, off Henry St., is Dublin’s oldest outdoor food market, dating back to the 19th century. Food vendors selling fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, and flowers, have gathered for years on this street, starting with the wheelbarrow vendors of Molly Malone’s day. The merchants are true Dubliners, with a rich local accent, sometimes referred to as “Dublinese.” They also have a reputation for being very friendly and witty, so it’s always fun to stroll among them and buy a peach or an apple for refreshment, or a bunch of flowers to brighten your day. Monday-Saturday.
The Temple Bar Food Market at Meeting House Square in Dublin’s trendy Temple Bar district is a veritable outdoor gourmet feast with vendors selling fresh-baked breads, artisan cheeses, sushi, quiches, tarts, juices, handmade chocolates, olives and olive oils, waffles, yogurt, preserves, chutneys, cakes and buns as well as coffees, fish, oysters, vegetarian food, organic meats, eggs, cereal and chicken and ham pies. Many of the products are sold as fully prepared meals or individual-portion snacks, ideal for a picnic in Stephen’s Green or in Merrion Square. Open Saturday, www.templebar.ie/Markets.aspx?marketid=14
Farmers Market at The Point Village Market at North Wall Quay, beside the O2 arena, is Dublin’s newest gourmet enclave where all of the traders grow, rear or bake the food they sell. It is part of the city’s biggest outdoor market with over 100 stalls selling everything from vintage clothing to contemporary fashion or jewelry, toys, records, CDs, bric-a-brac and more. Saturday-Sunday, www.pointvillagemarket.ie
Other Dublin markets with similar mouth-watering foods and delicacies include:
Dublin Food Co-op, 12 Newmarket, near St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on Thursday and Saturday, www.dublinfood.coop.
Blackrock Market, 19a Main St., Blackrock, Co. Dublin, which offers a variety of foods plus knitwear, wool, natural beauty products, handcrafts, musical instruments, antiques and books, on Saturday and Sunday, www.blackrockmarket.com.
Dun Laoghaire Market, People’s Park, on the waterfront overlooking Dublin Bay, selling a wide variety of foods (farmhouse cheeses, olives, smoked salmon, chocolate, smoked meat, apple juice, organic vegetables, and ethnic foods), along with arts and crafts, on Sunday, www.dlharbour.ie/content/recreation/farmers_market.php
For more information about farmers markets all over Ireland, contact Irish Farmers Markets at www.irishfarmersmarkets.ie and Bord Bia/Irish Food Board at www.bordbia.ie/aboutfood/farmersmarkets.
Patricia (Pat) Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Her latest book, "Ireland Travel 101" (http://www.IrelandTravel101.com) won 1st Place in the Travel Guide category of the North American Travel Journalists Association annual competition this year. Visit Pat’s web site (http://www.IrelandExpert.com).