Above: Captured by our man Beggars. The kiosk in all its architectural glory.
This tiny hexagonal kiosk out in Ballsbridge is just 37 square feet. It’s about the size of a bathroom in a small gaff. It may be one of Dublin’s smallest buildings, but as Dan Lambert finds out it tells a terrible tale about where our city is going.
On the outside it’s undeniably pretty. Sitting neatly on a grassy island surrounded by busy roads and towering brutalist 1970s tower blocks. The tiny hexagon of the kiosk is overlooked by another much larger structure, the grim 8 stories tall Carisbrook House office block, built in 1967.
The original Carisbrook House was an imposing Victorian terrace. The terrace was significant in the famed Battle of Mount Street Bridge in 1916, where almost half of the total British casualties in the rising took place. The British 5th and 6th battalions, as well as the Sherwood Foresters, met their first resistance here as four volunteers engaged them from positions in Carisbrook, although it was overrun quickly in the fight. Today the Israeli flag flies outside the building. Their embassy occupies the fifth floor of the tower.
The grassy island, upon which the kiosk sits, was used by the nearby Pembroke Fire Brigade Station on Merrion Road up until 1920. They stored an assortment of wheeled ladders there, which could be rolled out quickly in case of fire in the surrounding area. The kiosk itself was erected in 1920 and its designer and builders are unknown despite the efforts of local historical societies.
For much of its life it was a tiny newsagents, serving the local area and benefitting from the passengers of the number 8 tram, which ran from Nelsons Pillar to Castle Street in Dalkey, passing promptly every 8 minutes until the line’s closure in July 1949. The kiosk became commonly known, as Moran’s Kiosk, after one of the operators of the newsagents who we can assume was a memorable head.
Fast-forward exactly 40 years to the tram’s final days, and in 1989, the teeny structure makes national headlines when developer Phil Monahan paid an obscene 132,000 pounds for it, making it the most expensive piece of property in Irish history by size. Its tale from this point onwards becomes one of capitalism and greed, based firmly in whatever financial value can be derived from it. So here goes.
In 1999 in the depths of the economic orgy that destroyed the nation, it was put up for sale once again, this time for 250,000 pounds although it failed to sell. At this time, and since 1996, it was operating as an O’Briens Sandwich Bar, a poster brand for the excess of these years. O’Briens, set up by former Fine Gael candidate Brody Sweeney, went into liquidation in 2009. The little kiosk then sat empty for some time until Brian Kenny, a native of Finglas and one-man coffee roaster began leasing it in 2012.
“To say it was in a state of disrepair would be a compliment,” said Brian when we met up to chat. Brian roasted the coffee, manned the kiosk alone, and worked 6 days a week crossing the Liffey and back each morning slowly building something special and bringing a real sense of community back to the area. The kiosk, like in the days of Morans, all those years before was independent, community based, and became a hub of conversation and interaction on the grassy island. A sense of local had prevailed once more.
In 2015 however, a private investor once more swooped on the tiny building, it was sold for €235,000 and Brian had a new landlord. He sought to extend his lease to give himself some security but when this was refused he “had a bad feeling the game was up”. This sadly proved to be true, the private investor sold the kiosk earlier this year for €330,000 to Colum and Ciaran Butler aka the Starbucks operation in Ireland. Brian’s memory of it being swept from under him is not a positive one. A private investor told him before selling it to Starbucks that “negotiations have closed and you’re not part of them”.
There are now 52 Starbucks in Dublin City, they’ve often taken over a litany of other historic buildings; the old Bewley’s building on Westmoreland St, Crown Alley in Temple Bar, and recently the Avalon House Hostel on Aungier St, formerly the independent Bald Barista.
They are repeating this across the country and often flout planning regulations, as seen in the Queen Anne Building in Cork, their store on Drury Street and out in Howth too. As for Brian, he got turfed out on March 31st, all his hard work swept aside for the mega-corp to claim this tiny building as its smallest outpost in its war against the city’s independent coffee shops.