The colorful doors of Dublin, part of Dublin Georgian architecture, are by now a well-photographed attraction that has been placed not only on tourist websites but on postcards, posters, placemats, coasters, and other memorabilia.
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They have undoubtedly become one of the must-see top Dublin attractions.
But you really must see the doors for yourself and other examples of Georgian architecture in Dublin to get a true appreciation for the building style, which was added to the city's urban landscape during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Creation of Dublin As A City
Until the middle of the 17th century, Dublin was essentially a small walled medieval city, marked by the existence of a particular style of buildings and built on narrow winding streets.
The first major changes to this pattern occurred during the reign of King Charles II, when the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Ormonde, decided that the front of buildings, including residential homes, should face the River Liffey, with a street running along each quay.
In the years prior to that, buildings backed onto the river, allowing for the dumping of household waste, including sewage.
With this new development, three and four-story buildings sprung up along the quays, including the Four Courts.
But this was only one change that needed to happen. Following that, the streets required major redevelopment, which eventually came about as a result of the Wide Streets Commission.
Soon after, new residential areas were developed, leading to the Georgian neighborhoods we see in Dublin today.
New Streets Emerge in 18th-Century Dublin
On the north side of the city, a series of narrow streets were widened to form Sackville Street, which is now O'Connell Street.
O'Connell Bridge was also erected at the time, as were Westmoreland and D'Olier streets, in addition to an area called Hoggen Green, which of course is now known as College Street that faces Trinity College.
Dublin Castle was the first of many buildings in the city to undergo a transformation from its former medieval structure to a grand Georgian palace.
Georgian Dublin Emerges
An 18th-century property boom led to the building of the Georgian homes that tourists are now drawn to.
The earliest of these homes appeared on Henrietta Street, which at the time was a popular area for Dublin's elite, including judges, barristers, and bishops, all of them Protestant.
The initial years of the Georgian era were concentrated in the city's north side, but a move by the Earl of Kildare to what was seen at the time as the “inferior” south side, changed everything.
When his Dublin townhouse, Kildare House (renamed Leinster House) was finished, it was the envy of many.
Today, it serves as the location for Ireland's parliament (“Oireachtas”).
While sadly many of the Georgian residences were torn down in what was seen as a rebellion against former British rule, many have remained and are now part of the city's rich cultural history.
Politics Changes Dublin's Architectural Landscape
When the Act of Union was passed in 1801, a lot of Dublin's elite saw no reason to stay in their palatial Georgian mansions.
They instead moved to London, where the government there ruled both England and Ireland.
If they did return to Dublin, it was only for a short period, most likely for the social season, which took place from January through March 17th of each year.
The rich began to sell their Georgian properties on the north side of the city, plunging Dublin into an economic crisis.
The only solution was to rent the homes to the poor, ultimately turning the buildings in places like Mountjoy Square into tenements.
By the 1960s, several buildings were condemned and subsequently demolished.
This was a tragic turn of events for an area of Dublin that had been fashionable with many famous residents, including writers Sean O'Casey, WB Yeats, and James Joyce.
The nationalist Patrick (Padraic) Pearse met at one of the buildings in Mountjoy Square leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916.
In the years following Ireland's independence as a Free State (1922), there was little interest in the city's Georgian buildings, which is why many of them were neglected.
Over the years, the buildings have been restored. But the neighborhood is not very popular with tourists. Efforts by Dublin's City Council to breathe new life into the area have failed.
Alan Byrne of ABTours and an Ireland on a Budget Tourism Ambassador, says the area is, however, popular with budget travelers, given that there are a number of hostels in the neighborhood.
Georgian Dublin Today
The best places to see Dublin Georgian architecture today, including the famous Dublin Doors, include Merrion Square, located on the south side of the city center; Fitzwilliam Square, the last of the five Georgian squares that were built in Dublin in the 18th century; and Lower Baggot Street.
There are plenty of public buildings that are Georgian in style, too. They include the following:
- The Custom House, considered to be one of the most important architectural buildings in the city.
- The Four Courts
- The Rotunda Hospital (Europe's first maternity hospital, which was built in 1750).
- Leinster House
- Aras an Uachtaráin, the home of the president of Ireland.
- The Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the oldest classical building in Ireland.
- Parliament House, home at one time to the parliament of Ireland and now the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland.
- The Collins Barracks, which now houses the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History.
You can do a self-guided tour of the above attractions by using the GPS on your smartphone or check out some of Dublin's most popular walking tours here.