St George's Market

It's survived the Blitz and the Troubles, now everyone's favourite market takes on Primal Scream 

This November St George's Market once again reinvents itself as a fully-fledged rock venue, playing host to Primal Scream, Death Cab For Cutie and many others. Win tickets to see both bands in this month's CultureNorthernIreland competition.

Mani and Co might herald a new, more expansive role for the market in the future, but St George's has an equally lively past. Belfast's only remaining Victorian market has been through the wars and lived to tell the tale. 

With its City Food and Garden and Variety markets, St George's Market offers NI's largest selection of quality gourmet foods and fresh flowers.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, traders and farmers from all over Ulster came to sell their wares at markets in Belfast. Trade centred around Oxford Street, stretching as far as Stewart Street. 

Merchants mostly sold fruit and vegetables, meat and livestock, and grain and potatoes, but some also dealt in tobacco, oil, and even army and navy surplus. The largest market also sold hay and straw.

Commissioned by Belfast Corporation, St George’s Market was built in three phases between 1890 and 1896 starting at the Verner Street end of the building and finally completed at Oxford Street with a range of individual shops. 

Pre-1890 St George’s was an open market with stalls similar in style to May’s Market and certainly included a meat market/slaughter house. From the 1820s until the Corporation purchase in 1845, the market site was owned by Edward May’s son, Sir Stephen May and it may well have derived its
name from St George’s Church in High Street.

Although built in phases, the market continued to trade during the six years that work was carried out. Built in red brick with sandstone dressings, external features include Roman pedimented arches with Latin and Irish mottos: Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus ('For so much what shall we give in return?'), and Lamh Dearg na hEireann (Red Hand of Ireland).

Following the heavy German bombing of Belfast on Easter Tuesday, 1941, St George's Market was used as an emergency mortuary. Some 700 people were killed during the raids with 225 bodies brought to the Market for identification. The market would continue to operate very successfully during throughout the time of the Troubles.

Initially dwarfed by surrounding establishments, St George’s is now the only original market still in existence in Belfast. It was fully restored in 1999 in a £5 million project undertaken by Belfast City Council. A new roof was added, the main building split into three markets, and a restaurant built above. 

Seven thousand people now attend the general market each week, while specialised markets are held at Christmas, Halloween and on St Patrick’s Day, often featuring live music. Customers can now purchase such exotic foodstuffs as swordfish and shark between cups of tea or glass or mulled wine.

St George’s also hosts events such as the Ulster Motor Cycle Show, has recently hosted a fashion show, and also acts as an exhibition space for artists selling their wares. Increasingly, foreign traders are also taking up stalls, selling everything from thai food to steaming Spanish paella.