Unoccupied unit in Limerick village turned into a novel sweet shop

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

Colourful shop front disguises empty unit in Castleconnell: Barbara Hartigan with Castleconnell Tidy Town members Betty Hayes, Teri Doolie, Jim Hartigan, Linda Hardiman, David Bourke, Kathleen Warfield, Kit Joyce, Elizabet Godleib, and, below, David Bourke who painted the Limerick Leader. Pictures: Michael Cowhey
THE FACT that the jars of toffee, bon bons and jelly beans in a Castleconnell shop painted by artist Barbara Hartigan are fake doesn’t take away from the sweet taste of success.

THE FACT that the jars of toffee, bon bons and jelly beans in a Castleconnell shop painted by artist Barbara Hartigan are fake doesn’t take away from the sweet taste of success.

One of the empty units facing the castle now looks like a hive of activity thanks to Barbara, Castleconnell Tidy Towns and over 20 helpers.

The idea of painting false windows or “trompe l’oeil” (trick of the eye) came to Barbara after the Worralls Inn burnt to the ground last year.

“I thought what an absolute tragedy to happen in the middle of the village. The Tidy Towns had done so much with new lights, hanging baskets, painting and doing up the hall across the way and then to have a listed building absolutely gutted.

“Everybody was talking about it and the general reaction was that as it was listed it will be like this for years and years and it is right in the centre of the village,” said Barbara.

She wrote to the Tidy Towns offering to paint false windows to ease the derelict appearance. This idea was received well but due to health and safety it was a non-runner.

But they suggested to Barbara she could paint one of the empty units in Castle Court.

“They are just in the wrong place. Nobody would have a shop with the frontage behind the wall but these things were done in the boom. I decided that I would do it in a style that would be bright and colourful. I would include some characters with attitude and impact, who would catch your eye and make you smile!” said Barbara, who wished to involve as many as possible.

She tried to encourage people who might never have considered themselves in any way artistic and this would allow them to become involved in a piece of public art. Word got out and she was inundated with offers.

Vincent Warfield, of the Tidy Towns, delivered the boards and Barbara’s husband, Leslie, marked out the structure.

She bought the paint in Colorworx on the old Dublin road. They generously donated many additional tester tins free of charge.

“Having constructed the shop I got the most enormous kick out of the fact that everyone who came in to inspect progress, ran their fingers over the board to feel the false created panels, to be absolutely sure that they were raised from the surface, such was the three dimensional effect.

“So far so good! Now we were ready to create the business and its owners. I created Adam and Eve - two of the most unlikeable characters, intimidating, short on charisma and completely devoid of charm. They would occasionally open their local sweet shop, overrun with un-neutered cats and they would plunge their grubby hands into jar after jar of sweets, counting out every last coin, grudgingly tolerating their customers,” she smiled.

Barbara started with seven jars of sweets thinking it might be optimistic to get that amount to paint them but another nine had to be added. The age bracket covered every decade from 10 to 70, male and female. There are some hidden items that you have to look closely to spot.

“The Limerick Leader is always so very supportive of us when we do things and very supportive of me so I decided I would stick a Leader in the letter box,” said Barbara.

The shop has got a huge reaction locally and on-line. “I know not everyone will like it, hopefully nobody will deface it but maybe it will bring a smile to some faces. Many thanks to the 20 plus members of this community who made this possible.

“How lovely it would be to add a hat shop and a shoe shop and maybe even a florist to involve all the volunteers who now want to participate, if only we could find a sponsor. Castleconnell is a beautiful village with a fantastic community spirit and an enormous sense of pride of place as our award won two years ago confirmed,”