September 3, 2008

Georgian Dublin

Dublin is very well known for a specific time period; that of the kings of Ireland and Britain during the eighteenth century. It was a time of change for Dublin, since what was a medieval city was transformed to contain wide boulevards and grand buildings that can still be seen today.

We left Trinity College Saturday morning and walked east towards Merrion Square. On the way, we passed buildings with more reserved, a.k.a. plain, Georgian doors. We also passed some very cool, very old merchant buildings. Some had the hand-painted signs still on them advertising their specialty.

We turned right onto Merrion Square West and were greeted by this expanse of buildings:

Merrion Square is a park that is contained within a city block. On each side are wonderful examples of Georgian architecture; most widely recognized are the doors. We peeked into the park, which back in the day was locked up. Only those who lived in the homes surrounding the park had keys to give them access. Today is is an open public area, but since it had been raining (really? In Ireland? Rain? No way!) and the trails looked pretty mushy, we opted to stick to the sidewalk and take in the famous doors.

As I said, on the way to the square there were some pretty plain doors. By this I mean that the door is a solid color without any elaborate carving or paint. Also, the fan-shaped window above those doors was in most cases a plain piece of glass. This is in part because they belong to buildings where businesses are housed rather than homes.

Those surrounding Merrion Square tell a different story. This is where the rich lived. These homes were considered to be out of town, in the country even, at the time. We took a left onto Merrion Square South and encountered the following:

This is just about the fanciest door we saw. It was one of the few that had a multi-colored paint treatment. The fan window above is typical of the homes around the square, though not as large as others we saw. I prefer the doors that have a solid color door like these:

Their windows are larger and more intricate. These two also have two side windows like many homes here in the states. I imagine that back in the 18th century, these doors served a purpose. Mainly that of shouting "Look at me! I have money!", though of that I can't be certain.

We were told by a bus driver that there is a special reason the doors are painted such bright and inviting colors. Actually, he told us that two reasons are widely circulated. One is that since all of the houses and doors look similar, one needed a way to tell their door from a neighbor's on evenings when a little too much fun was had down at the pub. The other is that the Queen of England died and everyone was requested to paint their doors black for mourning. Since Ireland desperately wanted to be a separate country under its own rule, lively color is how they chose to show their grief.

On the southeast corner or Merrion Square site House No 29, a Gerogian House Museum. This building is five stories tall and within it is an excellent museum that shows how people lived in Georgian times. A tour begins with a short video that tells about the people who lived in the house. Then a guide takes a group through the five floors and describes what it was like to live there.

The main floor consisted of a dining room and front hall. Located in the hall was a special table that had a mirror at the bottom of it. This was there so that the women could check their skirts. Apparently, if one was of age to be married, but single, a little petticoat was supposed to be visible to let the menfolk know your status. Likewise, if one was already taken, your undergarments had better be covered up, or the whole town would be talking!

The first floor consisted of two drawing rooms used for entertainment purposes, whether with guests or family. The front was used for guests and had large windows. This room was well-lit so that when everyone was there and all dressed up, people could see their fancy clothing and goings-on through the windows.

Bedrooms were located on the second floor. There was a master bedroom and a boudoir on this level. Amazingly, men (and usually children) were notallowed in the women's boudoir. This is where a woman might take her closest friend for some privacy. It is also where she completed needlework, wrote letters, dressed in the morning and ate her breakfast.

The attic was reserved for the children of the house. This is where they had their lessons for the day and also where their playthings were located. There was a variety of children's toys in the house as well as some interesting educational materials. The governess's room was also on this floor, since she was responsible for taking care of the children.

The basement housed the housekeeper's quarters as well as the kitchen. Also in this area was a communication system. A child was responsible for sitting in front of the bells mounted on the wall. His job would be to listen for a bell to ring. When one did, he was to tell the other servants which room the signal was coming from. This is how those who lived in the house communicated their needs to those who managed it. An early intercom system of sorts.

Image from House No 29 website.

I certainly would not have wanted to work out "in the country" in Georgian times. Most of the servants walked to work each morning from the city. They then had to go up and down five flights of narrow stairs all day long carrying food, water, and other heavy items. It would have been very difficult work.

When we were done with the tour, Rocket Man and I were pretty hungry. I had made reservations at Ely Wine Bar, a restaurant located near Stephen's Green. The interior was lovely and consisted of two levels, that at the street, and the main restaurant one level down. We both had fish for lunch and shared a bottle of wine. Excellent music played while we ate. It was a little pricey, and not many people were there for lunch on Saturday, but we didn't mind since it gave us a lot of privacy. Service was excellent and we recommend eating there if you enjoy a good bottle of wine!

That evening we had plans to join a musical pub crawl...stay tuned to see how that went!

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