When St George’s Market first re-opened its doors just over 10 years ago, it did so to the delight of the entire community.
The 19th century listed building, once a thriving bodega of agricultural and poultry goods, had just undergone a multi-million pound restoration.
The project was the result of a vigorous campaign spearheaded by local traders and the general public to have St George’s reinstated to its former glory.
But when traders unlocked the gates to the Victorian-style marketplace yesterday — the first time it has operated on a Sunday — they were met by around 10 angry members of the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church, gathered outside the doors to protest.
Their leader, the Rev David McIlveen, said the group felt allowing the market to open on Sunday was just another example of the “desecration of the Lord’s Day”.
“St George’s Market used to house church services. We are very saddened by this. This is another example of the continual erosion of the sanctity of the Lord’s day. We have seen this over the past 30 years with the opening of public houses, leisure centres and supermarkets.
“This is just another part of the Lord’s day which has sadly been desecrated.”
His views were not shared, however, by the hundreds of visitors who flocked to the city centre premises to wander around and soak up the Victorian-themed atmosphere yesterday.
Mayte Ruiz, who runs a stall on the Saturday market, said she was very happy St George’s was now able to trade on a Sunday.
She thought it would be great for tourism as well as local families. “I am happy they have opened up on a Sunday. I heard about the protesting and I think it’s very silly,” she said.
“I think opening on a Sunday will be good for tourists and families. There is not much to do in the city centre on a Sunday.”
Mary Armstrong, from Holywood, and Michelle Calvert, from north Belfast, also thought opening on a Sunday was a great move and could not understand why some people were opposed to it.
“I think this will be good for tourism,” Mary said.
“Opening on a Sunday is not going to stop people from going to church. People can still worship and enjoy a family day out.”
Pat and Keith Hargreaves, from Suffolk, were also positive about the market.
The couple, who were only in Belfast for the day while visiting on a cruise ship, thought it was “brilliant” and were shocked to discover that yesterday was the first time it had opened on a Sunday.