26 July 2019

A bay window and
pilasters are reminders
of a Limerick bakery

The former Imperial Bakery with its interesting oriel window, Corinthian pilasters and fluted limestone pilasters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sometimes, when a building is vacant and the windows are without the clutter of business and commerce, it is possible to appreciate their plain and simple architectural beauty.

In the past, No 24 Sarsfield Street, Limerick, has been the Imperial Bakery, more recently it was a branch of the Permanent TSB Bank, and is now vacant.

This terraced, single-bay three-storey building dates from ca 1890, and has a limestone shopfront. It is particularly eye-catching because of its three-sided canted-bay oriel window on the first floor, but the limestone shopfront with its Corinthian pilasters and the fluted limestone pilasters in the recessed shopfront are also worth giving attention.

The limestone shopfront has squat Corinthian pilasters joined by a timber fascia board with moulded detailing over the capitals. The elaborate glazed timber overlight has leaded glass panes. Beneath this, there is an additional recessed inner shopfront with fluted limestone pilasters that flank the door to the upper floors and the central display window and central entrance.

The walls of the façade are faced with red brick laid in English garden wall bond, with rusticated red brick quoins at the side rising to parapet level.

The timber-framed, three-sided canted bay window has a rendered ogee soffit, leaded glass panes and dentil enriched eaves on the three-sided hipped tile roof.

On the second floor, there is a tripartite square-headed window, with a continuous limestone sill course and lintel, red brick piers and timber casement windows with leaded upper panes.

The parapet entablature has a red-brick frieze, a limestone ashlar frieze architrave and a modillion cornice, beneath a concrete blocking course. The roof is concealed behind the parapet wall.

The decorative façade was added in the early 20th century and its composition has been described as ‘vernacular monumentality.’

The Feeney family ran the Abbey Court and Imperial Bakery for many years, winning the accolade of All Ireland Bakers of the year on many occasions.

Vincent Feeney was the Mayor of Limerick in 1966-1967. He featured in an RTÉ documentary on ‘Newsbeat’ in 1967 about the Mayor of Limerick throwing a 3-ft dart into the River Shannon, asserting his traditional rights as Admiral of the Shannon, in a custom dating back to 1834.

Today, the former Imperial Bakery on Sarsfield Street is vacant and is available on lease through Durkan auctioneers and estate agents. Many of the neighbouring buildings on Sarsfield Street were levelled to facilitate the Liddy Street relief road in the early 1980s, so the survival of this building is an important part of Limerick’s commercial and architectural heritage.

A sweet little shop in
Limerick recalls Greek
heroes and entrepreneurs

Leonidas at No 22 O’Connell Street, Limerick, is sweet little shop that recalls the career of an innovative Greek entrepreneur (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

No 22 O’Connell Street, Limerick, is a sweet little shop in every sense of the word. This shop is a pretty, terraced and diminutive single-bay, two-storey building, built around 1900.

The fluted, full-height pilasters are joined by a plain rendered band at the parapet level, and there is a modern timber shopfront at ground floor level that dates from about 1990.

The round-arched window opening has a rendered reveal, painted sill that is possibly replacement, and a 1950s timber casement window.

This building has a pitched artificial slate roof that is hidden behind the parapet wall and its cast-iron cresting.

Since I last wrote about this shop a year ago, the modern shopfront has been stripped back, and I could see this week how this reveals earlier woodwork and carpentry at this unusual building. But some may find the story of Leonidas is even more revealing.

I had often wondered how a branch of Belgian chocolates, with a little hint of luxury, came to be named after a Spartan general who could have hardly allowed himself any sweet little indulgence.

Is Leonidas named after the Spartan hero? (Photograph: Haarajot / Wikipedia / CCL)

Leonidas (Λεωνίδης), whose name means ‘son of the lion,’ was the warrior king of Sparta, and a member of the Agiad dynasty, claiming descent from Heracles. During the Second Persian War, Leonidas led the allied Greek forces to a last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC while attempting to defend the pass from the invading Persian army. He is remembered in myth and history as the leader of the 300 Spartans.

A later Greek hero was Leonidas of Rhodes, who competed in four successive Olympiads – in 164 BC, 160 BC, 156 BC and 152 BC – and in each of these won three different foot races.

An athlete who won three events at a single Olympics was known as a triastes. There were only seven triastes ever, and Leonidas is the only one known to have achieved the honour more than once. He hardly achieved that on a diet of chocolates!

But while the Belgian chocolate company Leonidas uses an image of the Spartan king as its logo, the business takes its name from neither of these Greek heroes. Instead, the company was founded in 1913 by a Greek-American confectioner, Leonidas Kestekides (1876-1948), who first began producing his chocolates in the US.

Leonidas Kestekides was born to Cappadocian Greek parents in Nigde, Cappadocia, now part of modern-day Turkey. In his early adulthood, he moved from Constantinople to Greece and then on to Italy, where he became a wine merchant. He struggled financially before moving to New York, where he lived from 1893-1898 and worked as a confectioner.

He lived in Paris in 1898-1908. He visited Brussels in 1910 with a Greek delegation from the US and at a trade fair was awarded the bronze medal for his chocolate confectionery. He returned to Belgium in 1913, and founded the Leonidas chocolate brand after marrying Joanna Teerlinck from Brussels.

Leonidas opened a tearoom in Ghent in 1913, and a tearoom in Brussels in 1924. The brand and logo of Leonidas was adopted in 1937. The company was named after its founder by his nephew, but the name and design of the symbol were inspired by the marble statue of Leonidas in the Sparta Museum, in the belief that the Spartan myth is still important in European and Western culture and tradition.

The first shop outside Belgium opened 50 years ago in Lille in France in 1969. The brand soon went international, with shops in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, New York, at Harrods in London – and even in Athens.

Leonidas at No 22 O’Connell Street, Limerick, before the shop front was stripped away (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)