Knocking on Dublin’s Doors
The History of Dublin’s Colourful Doors
The doors of Dublin are as iconic to the city as the Cliffs of Moher are to the West of Ireland. The colourful doors can be found on postcards, magnets, key rings, and many other souvenirs.
Back in what became known as the Georgian era (1714-1830), Dublin grew into a rather prosperous city and the second largest in the British Empire. Consequently, residential developments started to be built just outside the city limits. Although each area was managed by different developers, the architectural guidelines at the time were strict and resulted in a cohesive style, with symmetrical designs and tall windows, which became known as Georgian Dublin. As time went by, residents started adding their own touch to the uniform houses, such as ornate door-knockers or elaborate fan-lights, and eventually…coloured doors. There are many tales that tell the story of how so many of the doors became to be painted in vibrant colours.
One of the most popular ones, often told by tour guides and probably more of a rumour, involves two famous writers, George Moore and Oliver St John Gogarty, who happened to be neighbours. Allegedly, after a few pints, they often confused each other’s front doors and tried to get into the wrong house. Eventually, Moore decided to paint his door green, leading Gogarty to paint his red, starting off a trend in the neighbourhood.
More plausibly, if we examine the words of W.B. Yeats, it seems that Moore painted his door green at Upper Ely Place, breaking an unspoken agreement between landlord and tenants to have doors painted white. In a dispute with his neighbours and landlord, Moore claimed that his house required a green door for decorative reasons, although many now think it could have been interpreted as a patriotic gesture. Another known tale, dating back to the mid-1800s, is that Queen Victoria, when grieving her husband’s death, ordered all doors to be painted in black. In an act of rebellion against the English Rule, the Irish then started to paint their doors different colours.
Dublin Doors Shooting to Stardom
How the doors of Dublin became to be so iconic is a different story, and it originates across the Atlantic. Bob Fearon, a photographer working for an advertising company, was sent to Ireland on a commercial photo assignment for a New York agency. While here, he became fascinated by the Georgian houses and colourful doors. He started to snap a few photographs of them, soon turning into forty to fifty pictures, and eventually decided to gather them into a collage. Upon returning stateside, he contacted the Irish Tourism board, and the collage was exhibited in their 5th Avenue window, just in time for Saint Patrick’s day, a very important day in the city. Passerby were so fascinated by the exhibit that the rights to the images and collage were subsequently bought by the Irish tourism board in Dublin to become a now famous poster, and the rest is history.
Finding Beauty in the Ordinary Again
Over a year ago, our whole world came to a halt and and with it, travel. While our generation was so accustomed to travelling often and to far away places, everyone was forced to take a step back and start exploring their surroundings instead. And this is how, in recent months, with lockdown and restrictions, I started to go on “urban hikes” through Dublin city. Even though I had recently moved back to Ireland after a couple of years away, I still felt like I had never explored the city in such a way. This time around, I was taking the time to appreciate my surroundings. With the grounds I could explore becoming limited, I started to search for beauty in the ordinary and tried to capture the essence of the city. Back in a place I had always loved so much, but that seemed to have lost part of its identity in the pandemic, I reconfigured my perspective on it and started snapping photographs of the everyday rather than the tourist attractions, in a bid to showcase what still existed of Dublin’s genuine personality.
There is something so comforting about walking around a neighbourhood, taking in the atmosphere. Similar to how dogs often embody their owners, I feel that houses often display their owners’ vibe. Meandering through the streets of Dublin, it seems as if every front door has its own personality, every house its own story.
Undoubtedly, the doors of Dublin always caught my attention, but more than the doors, I became inspired by the overall personality of houses, evolving with the seasons: lined by orange leaves in the autumn, gardens blooming with cherry blossoms in the spring, doors hiding behind leafy trees in the summer, and Christmas lights sending a warm fuzzy feeling in the winter.
I love imagining who might be living there, what the inside looks like, and whether they take their children’s first day of school photographs in front of these beautiful doors.
Dublin certainly is not famous for its sunny weather, but the vivid colours of the doors and pretty gardens never fail to lighten up a dull day. Some neighbourhoods may offer more than others, but I found many stunning front gardens and doors in unexpected places. Just go and explore any neighbourhood, and I am sure you will find some magic there.