25 July 2018
The Milk Market in Limerick is often compared to the English Market in Cork and is every bit as good if not better. It is easy to find under the largest fixed tent in Ireland, and a balcony inside offefs free seating to eat and to take in the sights, smells sounds.
The Milk Market, custom and tradition meet, while displaying ever-changing trends and tastes. This is one of Limerick’s two markets that are a reminder of the old ways of commercial life in the city. But the Potato Market on Merchant’s Quay is currently used as a public car park.
The Milk Market stands at the former Watergate, where Ellen Street, Carr Street, High Street, Mungret Street, Robert Street and Cornmarket Row meet in Limerick, and is surrounded by the foundations of the City Walls of Limerick.
It is said that Limerick’s markets can be traced back to the 12th century, when Limerick was already a key trading port.
The Milk Market stands within the mediaeval area of Irishtown, beside the site of the mediaeval Mungret Gate. It is a unique example of a city market complex displaying a wealth of masonry skills.
The market is an irregular, quadrangular, multiple-bay single-storey limestone market building. It was built in the 1840s, when it was first used as a corn market, and it is formed by four ranges around an enclosed courtyard market space.
In the 1840s, public figures in Limerick argued that the dispersal of markets throughout the city, their fitness for purpose, and their general constitution and management, were not the best solution for the city.
The Limerick Market Trustees were set up by an Act of Parliament in 1852 to expand and manage the affairs of markets within the city boundary and its environs.
The Trustees consisted of representatives from three corporate bodies, the Corporation, the County Grand Jury and the Chamber of Commerce. Each body elected nine representatives who would serve on the board for a 12-month period. The first board of trustees was elected in 1853 and the first chairman was John Croker, who represented the County Grand Jury.
To fulfil the charter, the trustees raised finance and acquired a large parcel of land in the Garryowen area of the city where many of the markets were relocated, and the original market properties were sold off. The Butter Market, the Pig Market and the Hay Market were transferred to the new market, but trustees retained the Potato Market and the Corn Market, later known as the Milk Market.
The Linen Hall was an early victim of commercial change as the linen industry in North Munster collapsed after the Famine. Many of the linen mills were adapted to grind Indian Corn brought in as famine relief.
In 1858 the National Bank transferred the mortgage to the Economic Life Assurance Society and the Trustees were required to service this mortgage by agreed payments
The Limerick Market Trustees defaulted on their mortgage payments in 1897. The Economic Life Assurance Society immediately sought a court judgment against the trustees, and this triggered a number of other claims against the trustees. Eventually, after the intervention of Limerick Corporation, the Court of Chancery appointed a receiver in 1898 by to manage the affairs of the Market Trustees.
Limerick Corporation effectively became the official receiver for the market trustees. The Limerick Market Trustees continued in a form of economic ‘limbo’ for 90 years, throughout times that saw major economic and political changes.
The advent of co-operative creameries spelled the end of the open markets for butter. The pig market went into decline long before Limerick’s four bacon factories closed their doors. The hay market became a victim of the improved means of motorised transport and came to an end in the 1930s. A vibrant cattle market came to an end in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, the Potato Market lasted into the 1940s before it too became redundant. However, the Corn Market or Milk Market continued to thrive, even if the nature of the produce sold there had changed. As well as fruit and vegetables, there was a lively trade in fowl, home-made butter and home-made breads and cakes.
The market for bedding plants and shrubs began to grow in the 1950s and expanded rapidly in the 1960s, and the Christmas market for turkeys developed.
Throughout all these changes, the Limerick Market Trustees remained in receivership. Then, in 1982, the decision to move the city fire brigade to new premises left Limerick Corporation with a sum large enough to pay off the outstanding debts of the Market Trustees. The receivership came to end in February 1988, ending the longest receivership in Irish commercial history.
With the release of the trustees from receivership, it was possible to dream of an ambitious renovation of the Milk Market. The project won a European Heritage Award and the Milk Market reopened on 1 September 1995.
In 2004, the Trustees identified an opportunity for significant new works that would make the Milk Market one the finest markets in Ireland.
This vision was realised in June 2010, when the redeveloped Milk Market, designed by Healy Architects, opened as an all-weather, all-year-round market space, accommodating major markets on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with occasional markets at other times, a new Food Pavilion, and many events, including a concert last year by George Ezra.
The Milk Market won the RIAI Public Choice Award in 2011. Today, the market is one of the most attractive features in this part of the city.
1, The Potato Market
Limerick still has two markets that are a reminder of the old ways of commercial life in the city – the Potato Market and the Milk Market.
The two remaining historic market sites are the Milk Market and the Potato Market on Merchant’s Quay, currently operating as a car park.
The Potato Market on Merchant’s Quay, close to Mathew Bridge and opposite the West Door of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, is an open market space enclosed by fine railings and forming an attractive backdrop to the Abbey River.
Limerick received its first charter as a city in 1137, then the medieval settlement of Englishtown. On one corner of King’s Island is the site known as the Potato Market, which is reportedly the original site of the city of Limerick when it was founded by the Vikings in 922.
The Potato Market is an irregular-shaped, five-sided enclosed former market place, overlooking the point where the Abbey River meets the River Shannon. A footbridge named after Sylvester O’Halloran, which I wrote about last week [20 July 2018], connects the market place to the grounds of the Hunt Museum across the river.
The plans for the Potato Market were drawn up in 1843 by the Limerick-based architect and engineer William Henshaw Owen (1813-1853).
Owen was born in 1813, the son of the Welsh-born architect Jacob Owen, who moved to Ireland in 1831. William moved to Ireland around the same time and, like his father, he entered the service of the Board of Works. He was sent by the Board from Dublin to Limerick in 1836 to act as its representative and as a resident engineer for the Shannon Commissioners.
In Limerick, Owen oversaw the building of Thomond Bridge (1836-1840), designed by the brothers James Pain and George Richard Pain, the Savings Bank (1839) in Glentworth Street, designed by Thomas Deane, and he designed the Mathew Bridge (1844-1846) beside his Potato Market.
While he was working in Limerick, William Owen lived at Thomas Street (1837) and Mallow Street (1841). He moved to the US and he died suddenly in San Francisco on 1 June 1853.
Meanwhile, the Market Trustees were established in 1852 and owned and operated a number of markets in the city centre of Limerick. The Butter Market, the Pig Market and the Hay Market were transferred to a new market area but the Potato Market and the Corn Market, later known as the Milk Market, survived.
Owen’s Potato Market is a two-storey, irregular-shaped, five-sided enclosed building, with a river fronting and many bays and faced with rubble limestone.
The building has a pitched artificial slate roof with steel column supports to the loggia. There are two gauged red brick elliptical arches on the southside. One forms a balcony with a steel balustrade, the second opens onto the Sylvester O’Halloran Footbridge.
On the north side, this appears to be a single-storey building facing the cobbled market area, with a gable-fronted platform section.
The market area is enclosed on the other sides by a squared limestone ashlar wall supporting wrought-iron railings with cast-iron spear and axe-head finials.
The massive limestone ashlar Greek Revival gate piers have tapering shafts and are incised a Greek key motif, and there are triangular capping stones with cat ear corners. There are supporting wrought-iron gates with spearhead finials and axe-head finials.
The Potato Market, which first opened in 1843, but it fell into disrepair and disuse in the early 20th century. It struggled to continue until the 1940s, when it became redundant and derelict a century after it first opened.
The market was extensively restored in the 1980s, with a covered loggia facing the confluence of the Abbey River and the River Shannon. The restoration work was carried out over three years was carried out by skilled craftsmen and AnCO trainees and cost almost £400,000.
The Potato Market became the latest jewel in the crown of the Limerick Civic Trust, and a new pedestrian bridge, the ‘Sylvester O’Halloran Bridge,’ was built to link the Potato Market with the Custom House Quay.
The newly restored market was intended for both local people and tourists, and there were plans to host music festivals and an open-air theatre. However, it now operates as a public carpark, and those plans still wait to be realised.
2, The Milk Market