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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 18 July, 2018
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Photographs show the decline in Ireland's unique and beautiful shop fonts

Graphic designer Trevor Finnegan has been travelling around Ireland taking photos of the typography on Ireland’s old shops.

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ONE OF MANY changes in Ireland’s towns and villages over the past decade has been the decline in the unique styles of Ireland’s shop signs.

Shop names used to be handcrafted, often by a local handyman, simply because there was no-one else to do them. Often they were functional: solemnly printing the name of the proprietor over a door. But they could also be beautiful too.

Over the past five years, graphic designer Trevor Finnegan has been travelling around the country taking photographs of the unsung typography on shop fronts – many of which have now closed down – documenting how Ireland’s shop signs used to look.

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Kilmihil, Co Clare

Every month or so, he goes off on a trip somewhere in Ireland, stopping off in a village somewhere and looking for shops to add to the project, which he has called ‘Our Type’.

Each time, he knocks on the door of the shop, even if it’s closed down, to see if he can talk to the people inside before he takes a photograph. People are often wary at first but open up once he explains what he’s doing, he says.

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Mountrath, Co Laois

“Sometimes they know the stories behind the signs and who did them,” he says. “They’ll often talk a lot about the shop generally and come out of themselves a bit”.

A lot of similar style signs are often found in one area.

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Ennis, Co Clare

“In a lot of places there would have been someone  like a stonemason or a carpenter who would do all the signs for the shops there, especially in the south and south-west counties,” says Trevor.

While some signpainters in Dublin became famous for their work, rural sign-makers were never as well-known, he says.

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Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary

Some of the old shops have become part of people’s homes, with many now turned into sitting rooms for the elderly couples who live there.

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Gowran, Co Kilkenny

“A lot of the shops, especially the older ones, are closed down now, but some are turned into houses,” he says.

The changes to Ireland’s streets have made the project almost a document of Ireland’s past .

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Knockcroghery, Co Roscommon

“It’s getting harder to find places,” he says. “At the start, lots of little villages had their own shops, but over the past 5 years all these shops over have been taken over by a Centra or a Spar or a Mace. They’re almost completely wiped out now”.

Trevor got the idea partly from a college project on typography during his time in NCAD – and partly because of his dad.

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Boyle, Co Roscommon

“He used to collect old enamel signage from shops that had closed down. He was an architect, so he could take them when they were being thrown out or discarded. He used to put them up in the garage, and that got me interested,” he says.

As part of the project he plans to start looking next at who actually made the signs. “It’s hard to find out,” he says. “Often it was just a thing that someone did, maybe as a trade-off or a favour”.

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Miltown Malbay, Co Clare

Trevor, understandably, says that typography is something he’s “really into”.  ”It just intrigues me. I think they’re beautiful,” he says of the signs.

The full collection of Trevor’s photographs can be seen on his website.

All photographs © Trevor Finnegan

Read: Shopfronts of Dublin: a very lovely photo project indeed >

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