Doors of Dublin

The eighteenth and nineteenth century doors of Dublin, perhaps the most iconic images of the city’s architectural Golden Age. Many theories have been put forward to explain why they are so brightly painted and ornamented, none unfortunately likely to be true. It has been suggested, for instance, that the practice originated at the time of Elizabeth 1, when a Puritan administrator decreed that all the city’s door and window frames should be the same drab brown colour. In an act of the defiance, the artistic and expressive population responded by painting them in the brightest hues they could find. A similar story dates from reign of Queen Victoria in the late 1800’s. Some claim that after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, the grieving monarch ordered all the doors in Dublin painted black in his memory. Once again the rebellious Dubliners refused and turned their front doors into a riot of colour.

There is absolutely no historical evidence for either of these legends. Equally improbable is the popular story involving two prominent early twentieth Irish writers – the novelist George Moore and Oliver St. John Gogarty, the prototype for Buck Mulligan in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The two men, it is said, once lived next door to each other on a terrace of Georgian houses with uniformly white doors.  One night Gogarty staggered home drunk from his local pub and mistakenly let himself into his neighbour’s house.  Moore was enraged by the incident and painted his front door red to prevent it happening again. Not to be outdone, Gogarty retaliated by having his door painted green, on the grounds that Moore was as big a drinker as himself and equally likely to make the same error.

A more realistic reason for the colourful doors of Georgian Dublin stems from the architectural development of the city during its expansion between 1714 and 1830 – the era covering the reigns of four King Georges that gives the style its name. In this period Dublin burst out from its cramped medieval confines and was transformed by the building of sweeping boulevards, five imposing residential squares and imposing public edifices like the Four Courts and Customs House. In accordance with the tenets of Classicism (imposed by strict planning regulations), the streetscape was dominated by rows of red brick houses. Each terrace was uniform in its design, with every home a replica of its neighbour on either side. This may have been aesthetically harmonious but it stifled the natural desire of householders to individualize their dwellings. Only through such minor details as external ironwork fittings and fanlights could one house be set apart from its neighbours. So, as the years passed, monotonously identical front doors were painted in the rich hues we see today and decorated with ornamental brasses.

The images in this calendar are from the renowned photographer Liam Blake, who has drawn on his extensive knowledge of his native city to present some of Dublin’s most attractive doors.