Tourists must be accepted as a part of the future of Cork’s iconic English Market, which celebrated its 230th birthday today.

The call came from the city’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Mick Finn, well-known market traders and market management amid concerns from some stall holders that Ireland’s oldest working food market is in danger of “suffocating” from rising tourist numbers.

Visitor numbers to the historic market have surged since it hosted high-profile visits by Queen Elizabeth in 2011, followed by Prince Charles, Camilla and Apple boss Steve Jobs, on the back of its starring role in the hit TV comedy series, The Young Offenders, with up to three coach loads of tourists passing through daily.

Measures introduced last summer to cap tour group sizes through the market have resulted in some improvements.

However, several traders said the market has become a victim of its own success.

The English Market today. Pic: Larry Cummins.

Butcher Michael Bresnan, whose family connections to the market date back almost five generations to the 1890s, said the market is suffering from the rise in tourist numbers.

“Sometimes the numbers of tourists coming in are overwhelming, they come in waves and clog the place taking photographs,” he said.

The Irish Examiner has also learned that a fishmonger and a butcher, who were distracted by separate flash photography incidents involving tourists last year, required hospital treatment for cuts.

As Mr Finn led celebrations to mark today’s milestone, he paid tribute to the generations of traders who have made the market what it is today. But he said tourism is now very much part of its future.

“A good job has been done in recent months and years to try and manage the duality of purpose of the market as a major tourist destination but most importantly, a working market,” he said.

“It is a working market and peoples’ livelihoods depend on it.

“But if we want to bring tourists here, we have to look after them. That can be managed. But it needs to be on the agenda all the time.”

Chairman of the traders’ committee, John Boyling, said tourism provides an opportunity for market traders and for the city in general.

“People are entitled to their opinion on tourism here but tourism is a part of life in many cities and as well as being an attraction for our customers, the market is equally an attraction for tourists,” he said.

Fishmonger, Pat O’Connell, said thanks to substantial investment and marketing in recent years, the English Market now ranks amongst Europe’s best, and that tweaking the management of tourists will be part and parcel of its future.

“Great credit is due to City Hall and market management for the investment and promotion over the years.

“If we get a little bit of tourism on the side of that, I can live with that,” he said.

Market manager Orla Lannin said while the measures introduced last year, requiring tour groups to register and capping market tour group numbers to eight or nine, have eased congestion in the market, improvements can always be made and will be considered.

To pay homage to the rich heritage and history within the market aisles over the last two centuries, market management has commissioned tribute banners, which are now hanging from the ceiling, featuring photographs of traders past and present.

Orla Lannin, The English Market, Lord Mayor Cllr Mick Finn, fishmonger Pat O’Connell and John Boyling, Chairperson, Trader’s Association, cutting the birthday cake today. Pic: Larry Cummins.

Ms Lannin said it is the traders that make the market special.

“And we wanted to really celebrate them and show how much we appreciate their hard work and dedication,” she said.

“We want to remember traders who have since moved on and celebrate the traders who have made the market what it is today to really showcase the journey of the English Market over the last two centuries.”

Mr Boyling said many of the stalls, including his own, have been passed down through the generations.

“So to look up and see the faces of the traders who were here years ago and played such a huge part in the market’s history is a really nice touch and something that is greatly appreciated by all the traders,” he said.

“It’s important, I feel, to never forget where you came from and I think celebrating the generations of traders is a great way to never forget and to make sure we carry their memories and worth ethic through with us in the future.”

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