St. George’s Market is full of treasures, not least trader Paddy Lynn, as Natalie Irvine found.
Whether you are an avid weekly bargain hunter or choose instead to saunter through markets as more of an annual leisure activity, the chances |are you have stumbled across a stall reminiscent of an old time ‘curio shop'. Like me, you may have also |noticed a small friendly man perched on an antique stool with lively eyes and brimming smile — and to your delight, armed with tales of enchantment about the particular item on the stall that catches your eye.
This was my first impression of Paddy Lynn, a market trader from childhood whose trade |not only makes up his profession, but goes hand in hand with family life, and by his own admission, contributes to a large part of his ideology and outlook on life.
Four weeks ago, Paddy who hails from south Belfast, became the Northern Ireland representative for the national executive committee of the National Market Trading Federation (NMTF). The latest news that Paddy is now officially representing market traders all across Northern Ireland comes as no surprise to the majority of his kinsmen — for them, there is no better |person to champion one of the oldest and longest living trades in the country.
Paddy says: “I'm a fourth generation markets person and have been working on the markets since I was 14. My great grandparents on my father's side worked on the markets near what is called the Cathedral Quarter now — it was called the ‘Half Bap' back then.
“Well over a hundred years ago, where Custom House Square is now, there stood Belfast's biggest market. It's easy to see why as it was the heart of the docking community. Merchants would be trading in things from all over the world
there. There were no corner shops or supermarkets back then, the people of Belfast were fed by the markets, that's how Belfast grew. The beginnings of every city grew up around the markets.
“My mother has a jewellery stall situated beside me here at St Georges and my sister has her stall too. You could say being a market trader is in my blood, it is very close to my heart indeed. I hope through this role I can help give guidance to up and coming markets, car boot sales, or local farmers that want to sell their produce to people directly.
“I feel I have the experience |to help make markets better |and make councils aware of |the importance of markets to our society. As well as markets being intrinsic to the history and development of our country, they keep money in the local economy.”
Paddy says the market is also a multi-cultural industry. “Markets host traders from all over the world and customers get |to sample to the best in world cuisine among other international produce available. You don't get asked your culture or your religion when you go to buy or trade something in a market. The markets belong to everybody.”
He says the market people even pioneered one of the basic tenets of the ‘green’ revolution.
“Markets people were also the first ‘recyclers', but you didn't call it recycling back then. Nearly everything is used again, sold as either second hand, or changed and adapted for a different purpose. I speak at schools on this issue, after which, pupils would come to St George's and do school projects about recycling here. The kids also learn that everything doesn't come in plastic wrappers and that meat just doesn't come in a hamburger.”
He bemoans the bad reputation illegal traders can bring to a market. “Unfortunately markets receive a lot of bad publicity, the ‘Del boy’ image of getting one over on the customer is still perceived by many — not to mention the stories the public hear about Nutts Corner, with fake coins amongst other things ‘being sold'.
“The overwhelming majority of market traders are hard working people who support themselves, their family and their community. What markets provide is not what you would get in a shopping centre. A |trader will tell you where the goods came from and how it got to the stall.
“If you want to know what's going on, you go to the market. It is not a place focused on |getting money and making |profit. It's a hub, a social place for the whole community and thus represents its community to the letter.”
Like Paddy's smile, his stall is also brimming. It is a treasure trove of collectables, a lot of
which represent Ulster's history: old militaria, 1950s televisions and radios, gas masks, Brownie cameras, university laboratory microscopes, skillets and old time cooking pots to name a few. There is even a pen-scope from a US WWII Sherman tank sitting alongside the eclectic range of memorabilia. He certainly has an eye for things from the past and a massive passion for preserving them. The preservation of the markets is an utmost priority for Paddy, but so too he says, is the conservation of the woodlands around Belfast and the cityscape and streets within.
He says: “I just love going for walks around the city and its parks. I would often go to Shaw's Bridge and look out across the river. Belvoir Forest Park is a very nice place indeed and I would visit there too, I just love Northern Ireland, but sadly in my lifetime I have witnessed us losing so much of our heritage and green spaces. You only have to look at the names of our roads, you will find quite a few are named after forests or the animals that lived within them — the Ravenhill Road for example.
“The same with our streets and buildings too. Though I welcome development, of course I do, I feel we should be doing more to protect the older buildings that are unused. I have seen so many knocked down and developed on, beautiful buildings of heritage and character — they should have been restored and loved by future generations. I sometimes feel developers would build on top of a matchstick if they could.”
And so Paddy looks to the future and hopes to meet with “those at Stormont” to put the case for making the markets bigger and even better. A few years ago he visited Westminster to meet with Lords and ministers who were directly involved with the issue of markets and took it in his stride.
Unimpressed by grandeur, |he says: “I'm not rich, I'm still driving that banger of a van |and sometimes yes, it would be good to find a similar watch to the one Del boy and Rodney discovered.
“But I know I have been very lucky in my life, I have my family around me and I have survived working for myself.
“I hope to pass this trade on to my kids or my grandkids, sure you know, I think markets are great!”