On or around St. Patrick’s Day 1970 a poster appeared in the window of the Irish Tourism offices in New York City that was destined to become one of Ireland’s most iconic modern images. “The Doors of Dublin” was the brainchild of Bob Fearon, an NYC ad exec who was struck by the beauty and symmetry of the Georgian doorways around Fitzwilliam Square while working in the Irish capital.
Captivated by their bright colours, Fearon photographed around 40 doors and planned to make a collage for himself. But when he showed the poster to Joe Malone, North American Manager of Bord Fáilte, he realised its potential as a marketing tool for Irish tourism and the rest, as they say, is history – in this case, award winning history that spanned the globe.
But the poster also had another important consequence – it convinced Ireland’s fiercely nationalist government of the day to stop demolishing Dublin’s grand Georgian architecture, which had come to be seen – in their eyes, at least – as a symbol of the city’s Protestant colonial past.
You may be wondering how Fitzwilliam Square came to have such colourful doors in the first place? One popular account concerns the writers George Moore and Oliver St John Gogarty, who were neighbours in Ely Place. The story tells how Moore painted his door green to prevent a drunken Gogarty from mistaking his house for his own. Gogarty, to the same end, painted his red.
Unfortunately the official truth is not quite so colourful and relates to the strict rules preventing homeowners making external changes to the city’s elegant townhouses. Since the door colour was the only thing residents were allowed to change, they began painting them in bright colours to cement their homes’ personal identities.
The trend caught on and today, “The Doors of Dublin” remain popular tourist attractions that extend beyond the boundaries of Fitzwilliam Square. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!