The History of The Bodega

Cork has been a city of markets from the beginning, but it was not until 1788 that its first indoor market, a covered food emporium off the Grand Parade, opened for business. This Grand Parade Market for meat and fish was soon linked to the semi-covered Root Market for vegetables and fruit off Princes Street. When the latter was re-fashioned and roofed in 1862, the familiar, conjoined English Market of today was complete. The Grand Parade-Princes Street Market was a flagship of the corrupt and undemocratic ‘English’ corporation that had politically controlled the city since the early eighteenth century. Following local government reform in the 1840 and a limited extension of the franchise, a Catholic  ‘Irish’ majority was returned and a new ‘Reformed Corporation’ established. This heralded a new era in the political history of Cork and also in the history of its markets. A Market Committee (later Tolls and Markets) was established to oversee administration. In 1842 almost £5000 was earmarked for the building of new markets and renovation of many of the existing ones most of which, with the exception of the English Market, had long been neglected.

ChandelierThe centrepiece of Cork’s market revolution was a second indoor food market in the city centre. It was named St Peter’s and was completed on this site in late 1843 at a cost of approximately £3000. The main entrance was on North Main Street and the rear entrance on Cornmarket Street, which is now the main entrance to the Bodega @ St Peter’s Market. The huge building, described at the time of its opening as ‘a sort of covered street’, covered half an acre (incorporating the current Bodega site, as well as Maher’s sports shop at its rear). It was designed by the renowned architect Alexander Deane and modelled on St John’s Market in Liverpool, the largest in the United Kingdom, which had opened in 1822. Its hundreds of stalls sold meat fish and vegetables to the Cork working class. St Peter’s, together with its neighbouring newly-established clothes market, the Bazaar (the building currently occupied by the Loft furniture store and the next-door bar /restaurant premises), was intended to provide accommodation for the numerous street dealers that had previously occupied Cornmarket Street. The creation of the new markets was part of ongoing measures by the authorities to regulate dealing and minimise street selling. It was also an attempt by the new corporation to distinguish itself from its predecessors by providing facilities for Cork city’s majority working class Catholic population.

Rents, prices and food quality in St Peter’s were lower than in the English Market and it soon became known as the ‘Irish Market’, to distinguish it from its older grander counterpart. Special shield-shaped plaques were attached to the new markets which were named after saints (St Peter’s, St Finbarr’s, St John’s, St Mary’s), branding them as the creation of  ‘the Reformed Municipal Corporation of Cork’.

ChandelierThe market opened at 8.00am each weekday and closed at 6.00pm (11.00pm on Saturdays, later brought back to 7.00pm). A team of  functionaries including sweepers and scalesmen, or ‘weighmasters’, maintained the market under the direction of a superintendent who had responsibility for it together with the nearby Bazaar. St Peter’s survived the Great Famine of the 1840s, but suffered from the constant competition of street trading which carried on in the nearby Cornmarket and North Main Streets despite the best efforts of the authorities to encourage dealers indoors. Although rents in St Peter’s were relatively low (two to three shillings per week maximum), the temptation to revert to free trading on the streets was not always resisted by all. A report for the Tolls and Markets Committee in 1881 noted that a large number of the market’s stallholders had decamped to Cornmarket Street. The order was given for them to be cleared and offered two months’ free rent in St Peter’s if they gave a commitment to stay indoors.

The virtual porosity between the ‘covered street’ that was St Peter’s and the bustling real street outside proved ultimately fatal to its prospects. It was never able to establish its own distinct, insulated identity as the English Market had done. While the latter continued to turn a healthy profit for the corporation, justifying continued expenditure on it and copperfastening its identity in the process, the Irish Market rapidly became a loss-maker. By early 1905  fifty-eight stalls in St Peter’s were vacant and its annual income of less than £500 was over £200 less than it had been the mid-1880s. Estimated expenditure on the market for 1906 was £600.

ChandelierVarious proposals were mooted as to the best way to remedy what was effectively a crisis. In November 1905, the corporation’s Tolls and Markets Committee considered a proposal to convert St Peter’s, which by then had sixty-three vacant stalls, into a wholesale market for the sale of fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish and poultry. The proposal, which was opposed by thirty councillors and a petition of 140 local residents and shopkeepers, was rejected. The committee then suggested that the proposed market could be held on Cornmarket Street itself, ‘under a glass or corrugated iron roof, supported on iron pillars, up to a certain hour, after which all commodities remaining unsold should be removed into St Peter’s Market’, a fascinating proposal that came to nought. In a context of increasing losses, the corporation decided in 1910 to close a portion of the market at the North Main Street end. In the meantime, in a further admission of defeat, moves were made to regularise street trading on Cornmarket Street by listing approved stallholders and arranging stalls along a prescribed line on the street.

The First World War began in August 1914, and the Irish Market became one of its casualties. In April 1916, the month of the Easter Rising, Cork corporation, which was then controlled by a Redmondite majority who supported the British war effort, handed St Peter’s over to the Ministry of Munitions which established a National Shell Factory there. The remaining stallholders were accommodated in a specially adapted section of the Bazaar.

After the war’s end in late 1918, the St Peter’s site returned to the corporation. Following independence in 1922 most of it was leased out, first as a garage and subsequently to the shoemaking firm Dwyer & Co, but a small portion at the North Main Street end was retained as a meat market by the corporation. This mini-version of the Irish Market, with space for sixty stalls, the majority of which remained vacant, stuttered on into the mid-twentieth century. At the end of 1955 the remaining handful of stallholders in St Peter’s were given notice to quit and offered alternative accommodation in the English Market. The Irish Market was no more.

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