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Word from the West

Halla Bia, Galway

West of Ireland food writer Anne Marie Carroll welcomes plans for a new covered market in the European tradition - right in the heart of Galway city

Markets are a must-see when going somewhere for the first time - when on holiday abroad, most of us will look for a good market to visit. It’s always fascinating to see the local produce, taste different types of food, and enjoy a new place with its own dynamic and atmosphere - and an indoor market is best for this.

You can spend many happy hours in La Boqueria, for example, the largest indoor market in Spain, and the most popular market in Barcelona. Located right at the Ramblas, the main boulevard of the city, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and seafood are sold there; it dates back to the early 13th century when it was an outdoor market located in front of one of the gates to the old city wall, only becoming an indoor market in the 19th century.

Mercato Centrale, the central market of Florence, is located in the city centre and hosts a variety of vendors selling typical Tuscan and Italian food produce, olive oil, pasta, mushrooms, artichokes, capers and the famous limoncello.

It has a second floor which houses bars and restaurants and, outside, vendors sell leather goods and tourist souvenirs. With more than 100 stalls and a history that dates back to the 11th century, London’s Borough Market is another favourite. An indoor market selling a large variety of seafood, meat, cheese and baked goods, it also offers ready to eat dishes and attracts a wide variety of customers - locals and tourists, professional chefs and culinary enthusiasts.

Closer to home, The Milk Market in Limerick welcomes its visitors with an array of colours and aromas. With roots going back to the 1770s, it has an interesting heritage. And, of course, The English Market has long been the pride of Cork and a big draw for visiting tourists, providing a unique showcase for the very best in local crafts, food and drink.

The most exciting aspects of this year’s Galway Food Festival was Halla Bia, Galway's very first indoor market. A collection of around 40 indigenous food producers and suppliers from the West of Ireland showcased their produce in the old Connacht Tribune Printing Works in the city centre.

The initiative was in partnership with the Local Enterprise Office and stalls ranged from naturally grown, seasonal vegetables and herbs from Bia Oisin, baked artisan goods from the Bread Shed to a unique Venezuelan style artisan cheese produced in Galway city.

There were small producers from along the West coast such as Ivy House Chocolates from Galway, Linalla ice-cream from Clare, The Gluten Free Kitchen Company from Kerry and The Legumerie from Donegal as Halla Bia provided an opportunity for small local food and drink producers to bring their goods to market.

It seems obvious that an investment in a covered food and craft market to promote local food, create a unique character, and attract people into the city should be the next step for Galway. Whilst the existing Galway Market is undoubtedly one of the best in the country and provides a valuable service, a purpose built sheltered and appropriately serviced market would be a major step forward in facilities in the city and could complement rather than compete with the existing market.

Market Street, Galway

What is needed is to create a unique market for the region that supports local enterprise, including the production of artisan foods, both land and sea-based, supplying the home and restaurant market. Such a market has the potential to be the backbone of our local food system and an integral part of our economy and identity.

A covered food and craft market in the city centre formed a key component in a five-year plan outlined by Galway Chamber’s Economic Development Plan 2015-2020. Planning permission has previously been sought for the neighbouring car park on Market Street and adjacent disused warehouse. A derelict space at the back of the train station has also been discussed.

Seamus Sheridan, founder of the city’s well-known Sheridan’s Cheesemongers and a former Green Party general election candidate for Galway West called for a market to be located on the ground floor of Hynes Yard car park, a site owned by Galway City Council and currently leased to Park Rite for the operation of the car park. ‘A seven-day covered market is the lung that we need in this city’‚ he says. But the Printing Works - largely disused save for an annual infestation of elves for the Elf Town Santa experience and as an gallery during the Arts Festival - would make a perfect stop gap while a more permanent solution is found. With 2020 Year of Culture looming and European Region of Gastronomy 2018 just around the corner, time is no longer on our side.

Most recently reports have emerged that Galway looks set to get a new 200-room hotel and Covent Garden-style covered marketplace on Market Street in the city (plans pictured above right). A spokesman for Royal Horizon Ltd, which purchased the Market Street Car Park in 2015, has confirmed that it has agreed to purchase the Connacht Tribune premises adjoining the car park and expects to submit a full planning application during the summer.

The building will be three storeys high over an underground car park, with a roof terrace restaurant. Modelled on similar food markets in Europe, the food hall is expected to cover 17,000 square feet under a double height ceiling.

Exploiting the natural link between tourism and food, a market such as this would be a huge tourist attraction to the city. With pride of place accorded to small traders providing personalised service, and an emphasis on organic products and small-scale producers, it would give small producers an opportunity to benefit from the West’s growing tourist numbers. It could also be a permanent civic space, a meeting place and a bustling social hub of the city with unique appeal to locals and visitors.

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Anne Marie CarrollAnne Marie Carroll is a freelance food writer and member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild who lives in Galway with her husband and two children. 

With a background in design and illustration, Anne Marie made the switch to journalism with a regular food and wine column in The Galway Advertiser. Her work now mainly focuses on restaurant reviews, writing and editing recipes, the development of food photo shoots, including styling and photography. She also writes for a number of other publications and works as a consultant for small producers, food retailers and restaurants.

Anne Marie writes about all things food from the West of Ireland at her blog, Warm & Snug & Fat. You can also find her on twitter as @Biscuits4ABear
 

 

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