The Coal Quay: A potential tourist goldmine that’s dying on its feet

The Coal Quay: A potential tourist goldmine that’s dying on its feet

NOT OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Closed street market stalls at Cornmarket Street on the Coal Quay, Cork city. Picture: Denis Minihane

FOREIGN cities seem to be able to run their urban street markets very successfully — look at Istanbul’s renowned Grand Bazaar, the Mercantic in Barcelona, the Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens, the Marché aux Puces in Paris or London’s renowned Portobello Road.

They offer everything from expensive paintings and jewellery to furniture, clothes, antiques and crafts to food and sweets. They’re great.

They’re only some of the more high-profile examples of the street markets operating very happily every day in cities all over the world.

But somehow the authorities of Ireland’s two biggest cities just can’t seem to be able to get it together when it comes to hosting a busy, flourishing street market.

Two of the best-known streets in Ireland are probably Moore Street in Dublin and Cork’s historic Cornmarket Street, better known to many Corkonians as the Coal Quay.

And you know why? Those streets and their markets have been there since time immemorial and so have the trading families who have operated those stalls for generations.

Earlier this year, Moore Street traders voiced their dissatisfaction at their treatment by the city authorities, complaining that a proposed regeneration/development scheme of the neighbourhood had been long-fingered for years.

The traders have to contend with anti-social behaviour such as drug taking in the area, a lack of dedicated public toilets for the traders and no street lights under which they could trade on dark nights. I mean, really. In this day and age?

But if you ask me, things are probably even worse in Cork because it’s kind of all gone quiet. Too quiet. A visiting journalist reported that at lunchtime last Tuesday, in the run-up to the city’s peak summer tourist season, just one of the handful of stalls at the Coal Quay was trading — and that stall, he added, was only in business for a few hours.

Is it any wonder that some traders are calling for a new strategy to save the old Coal Quay street-trading tradition from extinction?

Is it any wonder that they believe City Hall needs to change its approach to the management of the Coal Quay street market?

Because if this is the result of the much-vaunted and highly publicised multi-million re-development of the Coal Quay by Cork Corporation a few years ago, something needs to be done — and very quickly.

Back in 2011 the completion of the €4 million redevelopment of the Cornmarket Street area was supposed to bring the traders back in an attractive new pedestrian-friendly streetscape at a series of revamped purpose-built and quite attractive stalls.

The capital works carried out by Cork City Council on the old Coal Quay area hinged on the creation of more space for stalls in what was supposed to result in a better trading environment.

The traffic flow was even changed around to incorporate a natural flow of footfall through the city from the Grand Parade to Kyrl’s Quay, removing what one city official termed the dominance of the car, thus making the street more pedestrian-friendly. All to the good. And rightly so. After all, this is a very old, historic and colourful neighbourhood and the tourism potential here — given the examples above — is quite phenomenal.

In fact the original ‘Irish’ version of the now very trendy English Market was the enclosed St Peter’s Market, which was housed in what is now the Bodega bar and restaurant on Cornmarket Street. The building dates from 1843 and was originally built to accommodate an indoor trading space for Irish working-class Catholics, because at the time the native Irish people weren’t allowed into the English Market. But anyway, that’s history and after all, the Queen’s since visited the city, and people were utterly delighted to see her, and so, as the Bishop said to the fishmonger it’s time to stop codding around and let bygones be bygones.

But now that push has come to shove and we’re looking for results, it seems that all that investment and major re-development which culminated in the grand re-opening of the Coal Quay market back in 2011 doesn’t seem to have worked. In fact one trader colourfully described the result as a big path with nobody on it. There are complaints that only a few stalls are open a few hours a day and only at one end of the market.

On Saturdays, yes, the area hosts the busy and colourful food market. I wouldn’t exactly call that a thriving daily street market — would you?

The issue was highlighted during the week when it emerged that the vacant stalls are such a problem for one local publican, that he revealed he is considering legal action against the city. Those empty stalls, he complains, are blocking a listed building which houses The Bodega, a popular pub and restaurant which belong to him. He called for a redesign of the stalls, or for them to be lit up or put to other use when they are not in use.

Cork City Council says it has invested heavily in the area — true — and that it is committed to ensuring that the Coal Quay contributes strongly to the economy of the city centre — also probably true. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so why are there so many empty stalls during the week?

In fact, why are there so many empty stalls that a publican is talking about taking legal action over them? And why the complaints from traders about the way the market is operating? I can’t answer this.

And obviously, as it hasn’t done anything to resolve the situation, nor can Cork City Council. Maybe it should find out. Maybe it’s time for city officials to engage in some genuine consultation with those at the coal-face and ask the Coal Quay street traders why they think this colourful and very old market — a potential tourism goldmine — appears to be dying on its feet.

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