Friday, 29 December 2017

The survival of one small kiosk
in Limerick has been secured

The Park Kiosk in Limerick is a nostalgic feature on city’s streetscape (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The local kiosk or periptero has been a thriving, lively part of economic life in cities and town throughout Greece for generations. In recent years, the kioks have gone into decline, and although I know many surviving kiosks throughout Crete and Athens, their future is in doubt and many people fear that they may became a lost feature of social and daily life in Greece.

There were some kiosks in the Dublin area until recently too. A handful of kiosks survive along the seafront in Bray, Co Wicklow. But I also remember a kiosk at a busy traffic junction in Ballsbridge and another at the corner of Adelaide Road and Leeson Street, as well as a small kiosk that operated in the summer months in Bushy Park in Terenure.

I did not realise, however, that in Limerick too kiosks were part of street life for many generations. While kiosks in Greece were originally licensed to support the families of war veterans and war widows, it is said in Limerick that the kiosks sprang up close to the location of shops where the proprietors and their families had been evicted in the 19th century.

A busy kiosk in the centre of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The last surviving example of these kiosks seems to be one on the Boherbuoy side of the People’s Park.

The People’s Park in Pery Square, Limerick, opened in 1877 in memory of Richard Russell, a prominent business figure in Victorian Limerick. The Barrington Map of the People’s Park that year shows a public pump on the site of the later kiosk, on Boherbuoy, then known as Nelson Street.

The kiosk, therefore, postdates this map, and was built sometime after the 1877.

For many generations, this kiosk was run by the O’Sullivan family. The first proprietor was William O’Sullivan and it then passed to his daughter Norah.

The kiosk was a well-known landmark in Limerick, and part of its trading success owed to its prominent and eye-catching location close to the railway station and bus station. Like other kiosks in Limerick – indeed, likes its counterparts througohut Greece – from early morning until late at night, it sold newspapers, soft drinks, cigarettes, tobacco, matches, toys, children’s comics, chewing gum, books and ice creams, and a good place to find small change for a pay phone.

The kiosk remained in the hands of the O’Sullivan family for generations. Tommy O’Sullivan was a prominent member of the Limerick Coty Club in Barrington Street. It continued to be run by his sons and daughters, Fonsie, Maureen, Eileen and Robert (Bob).

Bob O’Sullivan was the last member of his family to run the kiosk. After it closed in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the kiosk then fell into disrepair and was vandalised. There was a fear that many of the tobacco signs and name signs were being claimed by trophy hunters, and over the years the original signs were removed.

However, the signs were repaired and the kiosk was painstakingly refurbished and restored in 2007 by Limerick Civic Trust. In co-operation with Bob O’Sullivan, FÁS and Limerick City Council, it was brought back nostalgically to its original appearance, complete with the original signs, including old enamel signs for Will’s Cigarettes.

Since then, the kiosk has been a unique venue for the arts. For example, in January 2015, as part of a project by artist Mary Conroy, it became a green building promoting Limerick as an environmentally friendly and ecologically rich city.

The kiosk was a starting point to engage with Limerick’s parks and green spaces, and housed native plants, local information, imagery and a specially designed map to introduce people to the wide range of ecological habitats and special areas of conservation in Limerick.

The Park Kiosk has also been offered to artists as a venue for multidisciplinary residencies, with a new experience each month as artists presented work made specifically for this building. Some artists saw it as a studio, others as a theatre, a community centre or a shop.

Last year, it hosted a puppet and installation theatre, and been a location for producing short films incorporating shadow puppetry, music and song and children’s theatre.

The kiosk at the People’s Park remains a nostalgic feature on Limerick’s streetscape. But it seems to be the only surviving example of a Limerick kiosk.

I still wonder, though, what the future holds for kiosks throughout Greece.

The Park Kiosk, carefully restored by Limerick Civic Trust and is now available as an arts venue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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