Historic Cló Gaelach signs restored in the Tenters

The restoration of the 100-year-old signs has been met with immense support from Locals.

The signs feature both Irish and English lettering, with the Irish using a unique Gaelic typeface. Image: Alicia Donnan

Nine original Cló Gaelach street signs have been restored in the Tenters area of Dublin 8.  

The project is part of the celebrations marking the 100-year centenary of the Fairbrother’s Fields housing development, also known as the Tenters. 

At the beginning of October, the signs were taken down for a six-week restoration period, going back up on November 9th.  

The restoration was commissioned by the Dublin City Council Conservation Office in partnership with Creative Ireland and the Tenters 100, the residential commemorative group formed to coordinate and celebrate the centenary.  

The restoration itself was carried out by Belfast conservation specialists Decowell Restoration. 

According to Dublin City Council’s Executive Architecture Conservation Officer Sarah Halpin, the office had taken interest in the signs for a while and coincidently so had the Tenters 100 group.  

“We thought if we could get the funding it would make a great project because it would meet local interests and our own,” she said.  

“It had never been done in the city before, so we didn’t even know how much it would cost or how possible it was.”  

The bilingual signs’ name comes from the Cló Gaelach typeface used for the signs’ Irish lettering, which featured in old Irish manuscripts from the 16th century onwards.

“I think it’s just a really interesting part of our history and while we may not be able to preserve it everywhere I think it’s important to retain aspects of it in our towns and cities,” said Halpin.

Four of the Cló Gaelach signs pre-restoration. Source: DCC Conservation Section Twitter.

Eight of the nine signs went up in 1924, with the remaining sign installed sometime after World War II according to Halpin. 

“It’s an interesting part of the growing interest in Irish language and Irish history in the 1900s, in tandem with the Gaelic League and people like Yeats,” she said.

Reflective of growing nationalism at the time, the enamel signs were colored green and white in defiance of British authorities 

Similar signs were seen as early as 1901, with the council in Blackrock township creating yellow and black bilingual street signs as part of the Gaelic revival. 

The signs, and their corresponding roads were named after prominent poets, musicians, artists and historians like George Petrie.

This sign for Petrie Road includes a Dublin 8 postcode, which is not featured on the other eight signs. Image: Alicia Donnan

In the 1950s, the green signs were gradually replaced by more modern blue signs with a Latin typeface, making them more uniform with other European countries. 

Halpin and others from the conservation office personally approached Ruth Bothwell, Managing Director at Decowell to restore the signs.  

Bothwell accepted and began the restoration with a condition report, gathering images and visiting the signs in person to assess their overall condition before proposing a treatment.  

“When I saw the signs, I realised that there was a great possibility that we could conserve them,” she said.

Bothwell noted the significant amounts of rust on the signs, along with overspills of paint from the houses.

Sometimes restorations can take place on site, however in this case the signs had to be brought to Decowell’s Belfast studio where temperature could be regulated.  

“When working with metal you have to literally starve the areas of moisture, because moisture produces rust,” Bothwell said.  

“So, you’re going to hit it with a heat gun and you’re also going to prime it. You really want to try and make those signs last as long as possible without rusting again.”  

Images of the signs before, during and after their restoration at Decowell. Source: DCC Conservation Section Twitter.

The signs were originally coloured with vitreous enamel paint, meaning it was created using very high temperatures in a furnace.  

Not wanting to use enamel and lacking such a furnace, Bothwell’s team opted to use metal paint instead, which better mitigates rusting.  

The paint itself also presented a unique problem for the Decowell team, it had to match the colour originally painted on the signs.  

“We had to go back and look at old colour charts and identify what kind of colours were used at the time,” Bothwell said.  

“It was quite universal throughout Ireland, the specific green that was used. At the time there really wasn’t that many colours around.”  

Maria O’Reilly Chairperson of the Tenters Centenary Committee, took interest in the signs as far back as 2016 and was relieved to see them finally restored.

“We were very concerned that they would just disintegrate, and they would rust more,” she said.

“I mean they’ve been hanging for the last 100 years, they bore witness to everything that went on in those 100 years.”      

Maria O’Reilly, Tenters Centenary Committee

Reactions from Tenters residents have been overwhelmingly positive, despite some initial concerns when the signs were originally taken down.

“The entire local community, and even past residents have gotten in touch with us to say, ‘Oh my Lord, that’s fantastic’ and ‘I remember these signs’ you know it’s just so recognisable,” O’Reilly said.  

Some have taken to social media to tag and notify their local authorities of similar signage, with the possibility of more Cló Gaelach restorations taking place across the country.

“It might seem like a really small thing to some people, but it’s proven to be much bigger than just our street signs,” said O’Reilly.

“Just look at the interest that’s being shown by other communities. It means there’s a wider community out there who is now realising the significance of their own Cló Gaelach signs, and they want to protect them, which can only be a good thing.”

“Every place has a story and I want people start looking at their place and start looking at why things are the way they are.”  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *