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New Collection in DRI – Kilkenny Traditional Shopfront Signage

16 January 2024

The Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) is pleased to announce that a new collection – the Kilkenny Traditional Shopfront Signage Project 2021 – has been published in the Repository through Kilkenny County Library.

The Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) is pleased to announce that a new collection – the Kilkenny Traditional Shopfront Signage Project 2021 – has been published in the Repository through Kilkenny County Library.

The Kilkenny Traditional Shopfront Signage Project (KTSSP) 2021 is a stand-alone project, commissioned and supported by Kilkenny County Council’s Heritage Office Creative Ireland fund. It followed an approach made in late 2020 to the Minister of State for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan TD, and then Dearbhala Ledwidge who was the Kilkenny Heritage Officer, for an opportunity to catalogue the vanishing shopfronts and signs of Kilkenny City.

The collection contains over fifty folders of historical signage and shopfronts in Kilkenny City taken by consultant Dee Maher Ring as part of a research project commissioned by the Heritage Office at Kilkenny County Council (KCC). Each of the folders in the collection has on average between 2-4 image files and also researcher notes with links to existing sources, for example the KAS Kilkenny Archaeological Society’s Kilkenny Streets archive.

The collection also compliments KCC’s existing collection, Kilkenny Shopfronts through the Ages and brings this important regional archive up to date. Speaking to the history of shopfront signage, Dee Maher Ring said:

The story of Irish signwriting is a cyclical one, with the craft falling in and out of favour largely since the introduction of plastic signage in the 1960s.

The influx of high-street chains and retail parks, technological advancement in the 1980s and economic globalisation further impacted the trade.

Distinctively unique letters, once created by local artisans in idiosyncratic styles, have given way to mass-produced, digitally derived signs that have flooded the urban landscape.

The collected shopfront photographs are located in Kilkenny City, in the townlands of Gardens, Collegepark, Pennesfatherslot, Dukesmeadows and Highhays. The collection is the first published by KCC in the Repository, and not only forms a valuable resource about the built heritage of the city and the history of signage in Ireland; but was the result of a successful pilot collaboration between KCC and a community archive.

The KTSSP collection is also complimented by additional contextual information compiled by Dee Maher Ring from a range of sources (including the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage and the Kilkenny Archaeological Society) which provides resources and information for further research opportunities.

Collection Spotlight: O’Riada’s Bar, Kilkenny

Dee Maher Ring, & Kilkenny County Council. (2023) Kilkenny Shopfronts: O’Riada Pub, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor],
Kilkenny County Council Library [Depositing Institution],

The O’Riada bar shopfront and signage is a stalwart on the Kilkenny streetscape. Research and additional information gleaned by Dee Maher Ring means we can ascertain that the signage letterforms use Gaelic/Cló Gaelach Irish script font – as evidenced by the red capital letterforms and double drop shadow. Additionally, the signage numerals are flanked by manuscript inspired illustrations, and the word ‘BAR’ is painted in a warm-white, bold serif Clarendon derived capitals with a hint of Cló.

The signage was originally hand-painted by the late Kilkenny signwriter Brendan Lawless c1993, and repainted by Bobby Byrne some years later – with more recent touch-ups from Sid or Thomas Jordan c2017. However, the store itself was constructed c1825 with a pubfront inserted c1900. Interestingly, of the 50+ Kilkenny shopfronts surveyed, Ó Riada was the sole instance of a fascia sign ‘as Gaeilge’ (in the Irish language).

Of the collection, says Dee Maher Ring:

I have always been passionate about hand-rendered letterforms and the vernacular hand-painted signs created by signwriters. My Dad was a painter and decorator who learned signwriting during his apprenticeship. The never-ending debate on Kilkenny Down Memory Lane on the disappearance of hand-painted signs in Kilkenny prompted me to investigate the cause of their disappearance.

The aim of the Kilkenny Traditional Shopfront Signage Project survey – the first of its kind in Ireland – is to devise and test a methodology for capturing, appraising, and documenting the fascia signs on traditional shopfronts.

This will attempt to fill an identified gap in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage where these vernacular letterforms are typically overlooked. Furthermore, I hope the systematic quantitative approach in conjunction with the qualitative could facilitate data extraction and comparative analysis potentially revealing patterns and offering answers.

Successful Pilot Collaboration

The KTSSP also demonstrates the successful completion of a pilot collaboration where, under their DRI membership, member Kilkenny County Council worked with a community archive to create a pathway to ingest materials into the Repository. Of this collaboration, Dee Maher Ring said:

DRI made contact and facilitated meetings between Kilkenny County Library and myself to potentially ingest these photographs through Kilkenny County Library’s membership. After reaching an agreement with all parties involved, I started on the path of ingesting the Shopfront Signage collection into the Repository.

Using their membership of DRI to shepherd materials into the Repository, Kilkenny County Library have made maximum use of their DRI membership, to the success of the Kilkenny Traditional Shopfront Signage Project 2021.

DRI Director, Dr. Lisa Griffith spoke to the success of this collaborative pilot between KCC and KTSSP:

We are delighted to preserve this rich collection which has so much scope as a research source. Kilkenny County Library’s openness and willingness to partner with the KTSSP to ingest the Shopfront and Signage collection into the Repository provides a practical example of the optimal use of DRI Membership. The potentialities for low- or no-funded organisations, projects and individuals to avail of DRI services through partnership with DRI Members provides a pathway to ingest that, going forward that we hope other members avail of.

The partnership between KCC and KTSSP offers a blueprint for other DRI members to proactively engage with organisations, groups and individuals in their regions and provide access to the Repository, digitally preserving arts, history and social sciences materials for the long-term.

The Kilkenny Shopfronts Project 2021 collection can be viewed and downloaded in the DRI Repository.

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