The Smithfield Fruit Market played an integral part of my formative business years.
If you venture onto the Green Acres website in the about us section, you’ll see that, dating from 1860, I am the sixth generation of my family to carry on business in Wexford town.
It started with M J O’Connor my Great, Great Grandfather, who set up Frank O’Connor & Co Ltd at 54 North Main Street Wexford, trading as bakers, grocers, and confectioners. Why am I telling you this?
I read in the newspapers, last week, that the Smithfield Fruit Market in Dublin (opened in 1892), is to close. Suddenly, fond memories came flooding back to Paula and myself. Just like RTE, I was reeling in the years from 1984.
I commenced my commercial life in the fruit and vegetable business traveling to and from the Smithfield Market, on an almost daily basis. I started by taking Wexford produce to be sold up there and returning with produce, not readily available, to supply to the shops and restaurants of Wexford.
Of course, that was before the fancy new road networks and the birth of our triplets: James, Patrick and Louise in 1994.
The Trip to Dublin
At that time, the trip to Dublin went through Gorey, Arklow, Rathnew, Newtownmountkennedy, Bray and Cornelscourt, to get to the city centre. Our ambition was to get to Dublin and back to Wexford before 9 am in the morning!
In those days I had to leave Wexford at 03.30 and get back on the road, with a full load from Dublin, before 07.00, a challenge indeed. But boy did I meet some characters on my journeys.
Characters such as the vegetable growers from Wexford that includes Davy Rowe from Baldwinstown; Peter Rowe, (sadly recently passed away) from Kilmore, and Gabriel Cosgrave from Bree. There were potatoes from Carne and mushrooms from Gorey, which were back loads to help pay the way.
And the traders we did business with – where do I start?
Famous Characters and Friends
Liam Giles fruit merchant, who was the first trader we ever bought produce from in 1984.
Larry Mangan and his son Gerry in the corner of the market, just at the entrance – great for cabbages. Dennigans, specialists in potatoes, Big Noel worked there, before moving to Begleys.
I can’t forget John Nevins who was guest at our wedding in 1987. He brought cauliflowers down to Whites Hotel in the back of his car, for our wedding dinner!
The Begleys were all about exotic fruits and vegetables. It was they who introduced the Irish people to a range of foods which had never been seen in Ireland before. For instance, at the time Kiwi fruits were regarded as exotic as film stars.
A great family, Greg and Paul, their sister Aisling, Mother Phyliss and Father Matt, their extended family, Tony on the forklift and Celine in accounts.
Also, I have fond memories of their neighbours on East Arran street i.e. John Power and his team, including Larry who often dropped down to see us in Wexford.
And then, of course, I enjoyed dealing with the Keelings team. Joe was at the helm, ably assisted by Brian Long with their famous Chiquita brand of bananas, that everybody will remember.
I still remember the McManus family, across from the Central Criminal Court building, with John Joe, Gerry and Tom. And who could forget the flower markets with Fletchers flowers and Tony.
I almost feel like saying ‘Today’s Bread Today’ when I think of the wonderful sausage sandwiches in Paddy’s cafe in the side entrance, on the left-hand side.
I can tell you, those sandwiches kept us going on the long trip home with Paula’s Dad, Johnny. When Johnny came along for the spin in the early mornings, it was to keep me company AND to keep me awake at the wheel.
In hindsight those long drives home in the freezing mornings, were borderline dangerous. Sometimes we could break the journey with drop offs on the way to Pettits in Arklow, Gorey, Enniscorthy and Wexford.
Memories are Made of These
Of course, it’s all changed now, and yes, for me, it’s sad to see the old markets closed – characters and another bit of history gone. It is my hope that something wonderful will be put in its place.
If they do, it can only enhance that part of the city where James Joyce strolled along his way and mentioned Frank O Connor Wexford in his famous book Ulysses.
Thank you for bearing with me and my memories – James O’Connor.
James is the Founder of Green Acres in Selskar, Wexford. The business comprises a restaurant, a retail wine outlet, an Art gallery, a deli, a bakery and a wonderful team of people.