Irish Design: An Illustrated Guide

Posted March 21, 2012 in Arts & Culture Features

TD Live Panorama

Fuchsia Macaree takes us on an illustrated trip through the last few decades of iconic homegrown graphic and product design – some examples more loved than others.

Bus Éireann, given enough occasional trips back to Home Home to eat enough food for a month in one go, will eventually endear itself to the user. The logo features a red setter, which looks friendly and fast. So Bus Éireann must be friendly and fast. The type is set in italics. Definitely very fast. The type is also green. Because green is Irish. Sitting on the bus itself becomes a slightly terrifying experience once you realise that the backs of the seats look like sharks – there’s no escaping their dead-eyed, indifferent gaze, showing no emotion as you slyly put your bag on the seat next to you and pretend to be asleep when the bus fills up at Portlaoise.
WB Yeats chaired the design committee for the first currency of the Free State, with  Percy Metcalfe’s apolitical artwork being used. Instead of any symbols of imperialism or authority, we had Irish wildlife – interwoven knotwork of celtic birds, a bull, a salmon, a horse, a woodcock, and a red deer. The coins gradually evolved until 1999 when the euro was introduced, but even now if you manage to find some old punts down the back of your sofa, you can dodge around the tents of Occupy Dame Street, go into the Central Bank, put the coins into a machine, and get your money back in euros.
I’m not sure where I’d be without Ryanair, probably significantly less well travelled and with a higher GPA in college. Their ad campaigns, developed inhouse in their headquarters at Dublin Airport, look like they’ve been thought up by a gang of drunk friends with the intent to annoy The Man. Going onto their website is the online equivalent of Takeshi’s Castle, but instead of dodging foam boulders,  you have to avoid being tricked into buying Samsonite bags, sexy calendars, travel insurance, text message confirmation, priority boarding, and cars and hotels. Fail at your challenge and Michael O’Leary will have more cash to spend on his personal taxi, succeed and you might end up getting a flight for one cent, and feeling like an absolute boss.
The Telecom Éireann logo was one of a breed of the lovely chunky old logos for state owned companies. It took inspiration from uncial letterforms, leading it to resemble the letter E getting a hug off the letter T. The logo was designed by the Kilkenny Design Workshop in 1984, and survived until Eircom’s spherical orange takeover in 1999, but if you want to see it in the real world now, you can find it on the odd manhole cover or your granny’s telephone.
The Delorean is way too deadly to not warrant a mention. It may not have been designed in Ireland, but was manufactured in a Belfast suburb, so by proxy we can claim credit for the invention of flux capacitors, time travel, Neon Neon, and ultimately the naming of McFly. Irish postboxes also get an honorary mention, for the simple fact that after independence the colonial pillarboxes were painted green, meaning you can still see the royal insignia on them and get excited about history being there RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES in all its rusty glory.


The key to the city. Straight to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter.