As you continue down Old Market Lane, you will emerge under an arched carriageway at the junction of High Street, Main Street and New Street. Over this arch is an elegant old redbrick building and a Dutch gable that supports an antique clock face. This building was originally constructed in 1880 as the Town Hall, before it later became the town theatre. It has hosted many operas and dramatic productions throughout its life. The building was constructed by Lord Kenmare using the red brick left over from his mansion at Knockreer. Surplus bricks were also used in the construction of the distinctive Post Office building – with its four arches, located further down New Street.
This spot is also known as the Market Cross, and as the name suggests, this is the place where the town’s markets took place for many years. Women from as far away as Glencar walked twenty miles to the town, carrying their tasty homemade butter in beautifully woven baskets. They carried their boots slung over their shoulders, only putting them on as they approached town, in an attempt to save the leather. The butter, impressed with each maker’s design, was displayed on large cabbage leaves to keep it cool.
Fruit, vegetables and flowers were sold at the market, while fish, fresh from the sea at Cromane and cockles from Glenbeigh were sold, mostly on Fridays, when the old Church Laws were in effect. Horse fairs were also held here, once every three months. Horses, ponies and donkeys would be trotted up and down the street to display their merits to prospective buyers. Loads of turf, cut and brought in from the countryside were also lined up for sale, especially when coal was unobtainable during World War II. Facing the old Town Hall is Sewell’s Pharmacy, built in 1800, it is the oldest family pharmacy in Ireland and still retains much of its old world charm today.
The modern building which also sits on this corner was constructed on the site of one of the town’s oldest inns. It was here that the nineteenth century novelist, William Thackeray, stayed on his tour of Ireland in 1842, and where he wrote about the streets his room looked out on in his diaries.
Turning left on to Main Street, some lovely examples of nineteenth and early twentieth century Irish shop fronts can be seen today. The craft of shop-front design flourished in the nineteenth century as increasing competition encouraged shop owners to commission more ornate, bold and colourful designs. A particularly beautiful element of the traditional Irish shop front is the use of a little classical column, complete with carved cap and base. A feature which can be noted in many shop fronts around Killarney today.
The beautiful bronze sculpture of the White-Tailed Sea Eagle by Joe Neeson that you can see on Main Street commemorates the successful reintroduction of the bird to Killarney in recent years. The Eagle was once a common sight in coastal and western Ireland but by the early twentieth century it had been hunted to extinction. The eagle was re-introduced to Killarney in 2007 in cooperation with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.