Dublin’s Decorative Doors, Lamps and Ironwork
Doors In the early 70’s, Bob Fearon a New York advertising executive was making a TV advertisement in Dublin. When walking through Merrion Square he became captivated with the variety of doors on the houses there. He took a number of pictures of the doors and mounted them on a collage for his own amusement. The collage was spotted by Joe Malone, then head of Bord Failte in the US, who asked if he could display it in their office window on 5th Avenue on St Patrick’s Day. The display created huge interest and there were numerous requests as to where the poster could be purchased. An icon was born!
Today the collage is the very popular ‘Doors of Dublin’ poster much loved by tourists and locals alike and it has brought much attention to, and appreciation for, the heritage that is Georgian Dublin. This is indeed a rich and beautiful heritage created by craftsmen consisting of many elements:
The granite steps on the approach to the door (likely to have a boot scraper for cleaning the muck from boots) The door itself originally made of oak but subsequently of pine. Doors were originally painted in dull colours but subsequently painted in bright colours for differentiation. There was a knocker and a knob but no letter box as all correspondence was delivered by servants until the advent of penny post in 1840.
The frame of the door was supported by pillars and a lintel of Portland stone often carved by skilled stone masons. The fan light overhead is a great feature with the very important function of bringing light into the dark hallway. The fan lights are like snowflakes with many varying designs painted in off white to emphasise their design against the dark of the glass and match the Portland stone lintels and pillars. Look out for the fan lights that feature an extrusion for placing a lamp to give light to the outside of the house as well as the hall. Glass for the fan lights was spun and cut by skilled glaziers. Wealthy owners had side lights for addition light. These however needed the addition of grills or shutters for security. The overall effect of such work stands out against the neutral colours of the facade of the building.
Dublin’s Decorative Lamps
There are currently 45,000 lamp standards in Dublin, a far cry from 1616 when the Candlelight Law was enacted. This law stipulated that every 5th house in a street had to display a light for the convenience (and safety) of passersby. Things clearly improved with the introduction of gas for street lighting in 1825 and must have got even better with the introduction of electric street lighting in 1892.
There are lots of decorative lamps worth mentioning around Dublin today. The restored gas lamps in the Phoenix Park. Note the T bar towards the top of the lamp for the gas lighter to rest his ladder when attending the lamp. Dating from the early 1900’s the elaborate swan neck lamps with their fancy shamrock design on the head and repeated a number of times on the lower column of the lamp. Note also the Dublin City coat of arms featured on the bottom of the upright. These can be seen in the streets around Merrion Square, Kildare Street and Store Street.
The Five Lamps a landmark well known to Dubliners. The lamps signify the five streets that form the junction at Amiens Street, North Strand, Portland Row, Seville Place and Killarney Street. They were erected in 1870 and are dedicated to General Henry Hall who was an officer in the Indian Army. The lamps also featured four water fountains for drinking but they are now defunct.
Merrion Square itself displays a number of old street lamps of various designs. See if you can find the one that is stamped ‘Pembroke Electric Company ‘. The double lamps on O’Connell Bridge date from 1881. There are 2 lovely sea horse lamps (from a set of 4) at the Henry Grattan statue in College Green dating from the late 19th century.
There are some impressive lamps on the entrance pillars of the Kildare Street entrance to Leinster house. The railings surrounding the car park also feature a number of impressive double lanterns.
Dublin has a lot of surviving iron work compared to the UK as much of the iron there was melted down during the war for armaments. That so much of it survives is evidence of the quality of the materials used. There are lots of examples of decorative wrought and cast ironwork to be seen about the city:
The greatest piece of ironwork to be seen in the city is the iconic Ha’penny Bridge spanning the Liffey between Aston Quay and Bachelors Walk. The bridge is made of cast iron and was opened to the public in 1816. Look out for the cast iron balconies on various Georgian buildings throughout the city. Designed for safety, security and to allow one to ‘take the air’. Good examples of these can be seen around Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Street.
Many of the balconies provide for single windows but some extend across the full front of the building. The best example of a full front balcony is at 22 St Stephens Green. Railings provided extra security at the front of many Georgian houses. Made from cast iron the railings were embedded in the stone lintel using liquid lead. One piece of decorative ironwork often missed is the coal hole covers to be seen on the pavements outside many of our Georgian houses. These provided access to the coal cellars of the houses for delivery of firewood or coal. There are various designs to be seen embedded in granite flags around Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Street and Molesworth Street. Many of the covers are embossed with the iron foundry name or have a pleasing design to prevent slipping when wet. See how many different foundries you can spot (I found 6). This is just a sample of the decorative heritage that can be seen and commented on in the centre of Dublin. There is a great deal more that could be highlighted if time permitted.
The thing that strikes me when compiling this presentation is the skill, time and patience evidenced in this heritage. It would cost a vast fortune to replicate today.
References: Pearson, P. Peter Pearson’s Decorative Dublin The O’Brien Press Dublin. Irish Culture and Customs, http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com