The old weathered doorway on Little Britain Street looks out of place.
It is on the side of a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, a building painted two shades of green. It is flanked by decorative doric columns and capped with a heavy flat roof.
William Derham was walking that way last week when he decided to take a closer look. He clocked it years ago when he was studying at Dublin Institute of Technology on Green Street.
“Only this year I took a closer look and noticed three castles,” says Derham, a curator at Dublin Castle.
Barely visible above the blank tablet that sits on the door’s arch are three flaming castles: the image found on Dublin’s coat of arms. “It made me wonder whether there was something more important or official about it,” he says.
There are many remnants of doorways around the city, he says. “Where homes were demolished. Portals to nowhere.”
But in the heart of what has historically been the markets area, a door such as this stood out.
A Prison Doorway
The doorway itself is the door to the old sheriff’s prison, says local historian Mark Jenkins, who runs the Old Ireland Twitter account and works as a librarian at University College Dublin.
The prison was part of the Newgate Prison complex. It once stood where St Michan’s Park is now. It was demolished in 1839, he says.
The door though might be the only piece that remains – and where it always has been, says Jenkins. He cites The Three Castles of Dublin by historian Mark English, which said the door is “all that remains of the Sheriff’s Prison”.
Arran Henderson, the historian and founder of the Dublin Decoded tours, says he too thinks the doorway was part of the prison. But it may have been moved to where it is now.
The stone doorway to Newgate Prison “was on the other side of the road”, says Henderson. “Someone realised it was a beautiful old doorway and stuck it onto that wall.”
The doorway is dated about 1780 by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH). This was once the site of a potato market, it says.
A 1912 Ordnance Survey map shows that the building where the doorway is now was indeed a market, across the street from a courthouse.
The door is made of sandstone and granite, and it’s “very possible that it was added to”, says Derham.
The NIAH website says the plaque below the coat of arms may have been inserted from another building, and that the door itself may have come from Newgate Prison.
The potato markets appear on an 1837 OS map and a 1909 OS map. But the doorway is only included in the later map, points out archaeologist Johnny Ryan.
In both maps, the potato market was already there. “It suggests that it was moved to the site of the potato market between 1837 and 1909,” says Derham.
“The streets are laden with stories. What was there, how did it get there?” says Derham.
Perhaps, the story of the door can never be fully resolved, he says. But it’s nice that so many showed an interest.