Cork Butter Exchange

 Cork Butter Market
Benson-designed portico of main premises of former Butter Exchange, later Shandon Craft Centre


A butter market began in the Shandon area in 1730, initally as an outdoor market. Over the following decades it became necessary to expand the Shandon butter ‌‌market due to its thriving trade, leading to the construction of premises to house an indoor market. In Butter Exchange map‌1769, the Cork Committee of Merchants was formed and it established the Cork Butter Market. Its premises were built on the grounds of the former Shandon Castle. The market established itself as an important commercial centre for the city during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as it exported butter to four continents. The Cork Butter Exchange was regarded as the most important provider of butter in Britain and Ireland. At its trading peak in the 1880s it was handling 500,000 casks per year valued at £1.5million1. The market also supplier the British naval garrisons stationed in Cork. The building was extended in 1849 behind a new facade designed by ‌John Benson. The image on the left shows the Cork Butter Exchange as represented in a map in Guy's 1893 Directory of Cork city. 

The steps at the left of the top photograph lead to the building where butter was weighed and placed in casks. Select the 'Firkin Crane' item from menu on left to read more on that building which was part of the butter exchange.     


 Butter Market 1900
Butter Market Exchange, including Firkin Crane premises on left, c. 1900 (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

The butter trade began to decline by the end of the nineteenth century due to competition from European butter producers. By the early 1920s the Shandon butter market was unable to compete, leading to its closure in 1924. In the 1930s the butter market buildings were converted to a hat factory, first run by Sunbeam Wolsey and later the T. O’Gorman company, until it was destroyed by fire in 1976. Cork Corporation purchased the derelict premises in 1980 and developed it with the assistance of the Industrial Development Authority as a craft centre and museum. A large part of the butter market building opened as the Shandon Craft Centre in 1984 and remained open until 2011 when it became necessary to close the centre for repair work.

 Butter Market interior
Interior of Cork Butter Exchange (Illustrated London News, Vol. 34, 2 April 1859, p. 324)


Eric Peard instigated the Cork Butter Museum, which was opened in 1997 in a part of the former butter market building, known formally as the Tony O’Reilly Centre. Eric Peard convinced Dr O'Reilly to became a major sponsor of the project which is housed next to the John Benson-designed portico. The museum presents display boards and artefacts outlining the origins of dairying in Ireland, the development of butter-making techniques, and the history of the Cork Butter Exchange.

 ‌Butter Museum
Frontage of Cork Butter Museum


 Butter Museum Interior
Some exhibits in the Butter Museum

 See also another page in this website on the Cork Butter Market.


Colin Rynne, At the sign of the cow: the Cork butter market, 1770-1924. Collins Press, Cork, 1998.

Colin Rynne, 'The Cork Butter Museum', in The Archive: Journal of the Cork Folklore Project, Volume 1, issue 3, April 1999, p. 3. 

1The peoples North Parish pilgrimage: A special souvenir publication for Jubilee 2000 celebrations. Typing Times Publishing House, Cork, 2000, p. 12.

Peter Foynes, Walking Shandon: A guide to Cork's historic heart. Cork Butter Museum Ltd, 2007, p. 17.

Evening Echo, 18 March 1974, p.5.

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