The Saturday Market
July 30th, 2009
In 1824, Hely Dutton, in his ‘Statistical Survey of County Galway’ wrote as follows “The vegetable market kept near the main guard is generally well supplied, and at reasonable rates; all kinds come to the market washed, by which any imperfection is easily detected. The cabbage raised near the sea side on sea weed is particularly delicious; those who have been used to those cultivated on ground highly manured, cannot form any idea of the difference. There are also in season, peaches, strawberries, gooseberries, apples, pears etc.”.
Hardiman said much the same thing...”The town is well supplied with vegetables...the green gardeners cultivate a considerable quantity of ground and keep a considerable supply of remarkable fine-flavoured fruit and vegetables”.
A note in The Galway Vindicator in December 1849 said “We had a moderate supply of grain at market today. The quantity of oats and barley is becoming visibly short; they have advanced today in price --- barley from 4d to 6d per barrel; oats about 1d per stone ; wheat has not advanced in price, but the demand was good for milling samples. All grain at market appears to have suffered from the late severe weather”. There then followed a list of prices of the various products on offer. This idea of publishing prices at the market was common in local newspapers up to the middle of the last century.
In 1948, a tourist writer named Louis Coppin wrote “Let not the visitor miss the joyful chaos of Galway’s weekend purchasing. Saturday is not a day of speed. Petrol must give way to horse-power and donkey-power, and cattle that like to investigate both sides of the road. Proud glittering models of fame crawl humiliatingly in face of a stream of vehicles of astonishing build and variety rumbling in from Conamara. Carts piled with sacks of oats, potatoes, flour; others with crates of wondering calves and bewildered fowls. It is the great day ---not necessarily the happy one---of the small brown donkeys further dwarfed by huge wheels and the garden produce heaped above them. Around you in the street, or about the food market in the shadow of the ancient church, you can hear the musical Gaelic speech. Tall handsome women of Spanish type, dark haired and dignified; island women whose features speak hardiness and force of character; and women of the rock-strewn region around Carraroe unwittingly bring upon themselves the kind of staring that notabilities endure.
The men also receive attention. Of fine physique, their faces healthily browned by sea and mountain winds, they attract you so that you, fascinated, from group to group. Old men in home-spun, with wide brimmed Connemara hats, and the younger in tailored suits and coloured felts in fashion are alike in keenness of selling and shrewdness of buying”.
Our photograph of a typical Saturday morning was taken in 1954, and shows a mixture of old and new. You won’t see many shawls or homespun trousers there today, indeed you are likely to hear more German or Polish being spoken than ‘musical Gaelic’, but the market is still a wonderful, colourful and important feature of Galway life.... a great tradition.
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