Cottages in Ireland, like cottages everywhere, can be a delight to the eye. When kept in good condition, they are quaint and beautiful and a nostalgic reminder of the country’s rural past.
If you stumble across one that is thatched, freshly whitewashed and has a red door – you’ve found yourself a quintessentially Irish cottage.
And it begs the question: why do Irish cottages have red doors? The answer is tied up in the country’s history and traditions. But if you were hoping for one clear-cut answer, you’ll be disappointed. There are many.
So let’s take a closer look at the varied reason why Irish cottages have red doors.
Why do the Irish have Red Doors?
To the modern eye, Irish cottages have so much romantic appeal that they are sought-after character properties – their high market value reflects this. But the romantic ideal of the Irish cottage is a modern concept. It ignores the origins of all cottages – homes for the poorest in society.
And the reason why Irish cottage doors are often painted red can just as often be linked to the realities of life for the poor and oppressed in Ireland as their rich folkloric traditions.
One reason why Irish cottages have red doors could be linked to the deep roots of Gaelic culture. Red is often seen as a symbol of power and aggression and in the Gaelic tradition it is no different.
Today, a red hand is used in heraldry to denote the Irish Province of Ulster but the red hand has been used by many Irish clans in its history because it was a sign of a great warrior.
So painting their doors red may have been a way for Irish folk to rekindle that sense of pride and defiance against any that might threaten their home.
Perhaps this sense of history can also account for the story that when Queen Victoria demanded that Irish cottage doors be painted black, the folk of Ireland decided to paint them red as a reminder that they resented being told what to do.
Another reason why Irish cottages have red doors is linked to the idea of protection. Ireland’s folklore is richly furnished with the Fair Folk. Fairies, in other words.
But Irish fairies are not the kind of magic being we associate with Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies. Irish fairies are dark and cause trouble. They were also believed to have kidnap children and put a fairy child in its place – they were called a changeling.
Not only this but the notion of the wandering souls of the departed entering the home often troubled Irish cottagers. So, to ward off these nasty sprites and ghosts, Irish people would paint their doors red as a protection for the home.
Protection also links in with the wider symbolism of red doors on Irish cottages.
What does a Red Door Symbolize?
Many people link Irish cottages’ red doors back to the Bible. The Irish have a long Christian heritage and so it’s reasonable to connect red doors to the story of Moses.
The Bible says that God told Moses that if the blood of a sacrificed lamb were smeared on the doors of the Israelites, they would be spared from his wrath.
So the superstition of painting your cottage door red as a form of spiritual protection from the injustices of the world seems understandable.
All of these theories seem interesting and plausible. However, it’s just as likely that Irish cottagers of the past saw the aesthetic appeal of a freshly whitewashed cottage with a nicely contrasting red front door.
And that’s a concept we can all agree with to this day.