Armagh Markets and Fair Days is situated on the walls of the steps beside the Markethouse and enhances the walk up to Market Square and the hill on which the Church of Ireland Cathedral stands, overlooking Armagh City. It forms part of the “Public Art Trail” which brings together all the various artworks and Armagh’s architectural streetscape into an engaging walking tour around our historic city. Many public art projects are one-off works designed to enhance a public site which can be created in any media outside of the gallery setting.
“Armagh Markets and Fair Days” is made up of ceramic wall panels that depict the traditional journey to market and the produce taken there. It also portrays musicians and rhymers that would have entertained the crowds.
The structure was constructed in 2010 under the Re-imaging Communities with Public Art Programme by the then Armagh City and District Council in conjunction with the Arts Council for Northern Ireland.
The artist for the sculpture was Eleanor Wheeler. Her specialism lies in “designing and making large scale ceramic and brick sculptural features for architecture, public places and gardens”. Her work is site specific and she also likes to engage with local community groups, residents and schools as well as planners and architects. She has a particular interest in architectural detail and will explore the history of the site to create a piece of art that “tells a story” relating to the place and surroundings in which the artwork is placed. Her work has been commissioned by hospital trusts, local councils, education authorities, library boards, museums, further education authorities, national charities and private clients.
The Markethouse which stands beside the wall art was erected by Archbishop Stuart in 1815 on a site where the Sessions House and Gaol once stood. The lower storey was used for the buying and selling of corn, grain and potatoes and was fitted with large scales for weighing the goods. Public meetings, dances and concerts where held in the second storey. A third storey has since been added and prior to its current use as Armagh City Library, it was the municipal technical school.
Markets and fairs have been held here in Armagh for centuries and this piece of wall art was inspired by the locality in which it is displayed. Market Street was the hub of the city as townspeople came together with their friends and country folk who had traversed here on foot (many shoeless) or by horse and cart. They would have gathered in the Market Square to haggle and barter to sell their produce -items such as grain, butter, eggs, fruit, flowers, hens and pigs. Deals done they would have stayed a while to listen to the musicians and storytellers gathered there to entertain the throng, all traditions still thriving here today. Poems and songs learned have been remembered and handed down through many generations and may have inspired our present day “Bards of Armagh”.
Written by David McDonald, Dierdri Connelly, Louise McCarthy, Caoimhe Toner and Karen Edgar, The Orchateers, Armagh Ambassadors