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Ghost Signs

The Liberties is one of the oldest and most historic neighbourhoods in Dublin. However, in recent years it has seen many changes that have shaped a new face for the area. 

On almost every corner of the Liberties, from Fumbally to Victoria’s Quay and beyond, new developments have certainly rejuvenated the life of the streets, but it is the visible marks of the past that really tell the greatest stories.

Dublin 8 is littered with ghost signs, which are generally defined as an old hand-painted advertising sign that has been preserved on a building for an extended period of time. However, it can also include shopfronts and names of businesses that were once painted onto buildings. 

DublinGhostSigns.com is a website run by Emma Clarke, who came to Dublin in 2008. While she posts pictures of traditional signage, she also posts mosaic doorsteps, handpainted signs on wood, metal signs and stone carved signs to the online portfolio. 

She started the website in 2013, but her interest in old signs was sparked in 2009 by the Georgian Restaurant on South Richmond Street. Dublin Ghost Signs has now collated photos from Dublin 1-8 and Dublin 11. Her aim is to document the empty buildings and archaic signs in Dublin before they disappear forever. 

Clarke feels that these signs are important as they tell a story of a forgotten Dublin. She said, “These signs make me think about a different time – when there were brushmakers, victuallers and dairies around the city – a real contrast to today’s convenience stores and fast food outlets.” 

As mentioned previously, the Liberties is no exception to ghost signs, and in fact it has quite a few, each with its own unique story. 

Leonard’s Corner, the junction between Clanbrassil Street and South Circular Road, is a very historic part of Dublin. It was once known as the heart of “Little Jerusalem”, due to the Jewish community that resided there. 

However, the junction is now riddled with ghost signs, both visible and somewhat hidden. On Clanbrassil Street, just off Wesley Place, a large red and white sign from the 1950’s can be seen on the side of a cream building with two chimney pots. It reads, “Thos Maguire & Sons, Decorators & General Contractors. Phone 51045”.

One commenter from the website said, “My uncle Terry Maguire was the main man on the job. He had been sent to art school. So this was his Sistine Chapel, as the family put it.” Such comments like this show the nostalgia and reminiscence that ghost signs bring to those around them. 

While not a traditional ghost sign, Clarke is “always intrigued” by the old Central Skin & Hide Co. building on Watling Street. The street lies adjacent to land owned by Guinness, where the smell of the brewery lingers. 

It was once, however, populated with many tanneries at a time when leather manufacturing was one of Ireland’s biggest industries. The tanneries combined with the smell of the brewery behind it would have certainly left the street with a very particular odour. “Can you imagine how bad it smelled around there?” Clarke said. 

Regardless of the interesting yarns that come along with ghost signs, new development is certainly inescapable in a prosperous city like Dublin and this is an unfortunate fact for ghost signs. 

Clarke felt that all hope is not lost for these signs. She said, “I think it is good to see how some business owners retain old signs and integrate them into new designs like Doran’s on South Great George’s Street.”

Despite the recent rejuvenation of the Liberties, ghost signs are a reminder of the area’s past for the community that certainly haven’t forgotten it. They connect the locals to old businesses that loved ones may have once owned, worked for or simply frequented. 

Clarke agreed that they were an ode to a past Dublin, saying “I think business signs provide a historic focus for an area and can be seen as signposts to the city’s commercial past.” 

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