Design Moment: Green post box, c1922

What to do with all those bloody red Brit boxes dotting the Free State? Paint ’em green

For the week that’s in it, it seemed a good time to focus on an Irish-designed object that would fit in with the giants of instantly recognisable design that usually feature in this column. It’s not an easy task. Perhaps the reason why design is the distant, far-flung poor relation in our cultural family tree – with literature the treasured son – is encapsulated in our post boxes.

Novelist and postal official Anthony Trollope, who lived for a time in Donnybrook, is credited with introducing post boxes to Ireland in the mid-19th century. The penny post had been such a success that postage volumes were on the increase and having to go into the post office simply to post a letter was becoming impractical.

Those first boxes were red – pillar-box red – as they were throughout the British empire. Made of cast iron, they appeared freestanding on streets, embedded into walls and attached to poles. Not just a useful and a practical solution to a problem,the boxes in all their vivid redness were a potent and ubiquitous symbol of British rule in Ireland.

Green solution

This presented a challenge in 1922. The first act of the new Irish government flexing its independent muscles was not to commission a new Irish design for the post boxes and a programme of replacement. Instead, it ordered that the post boxes be painted green. So: An Irish solution to an Irish problem. It didn't seem to matter that the boxes also featured the royal cypher symbols– either ER (Edward Rex), GR (George Rex) or more commonly VR (Victoria Regina), complete with a large crown – still clearly visible through the coat of green paint.


In the early days, stories were told of patchy paint jobs and the red showing through. The actual shade of green was not specified, so the colours varied depending on what paint was to hand around the country. This was not an era of brand-control Pantone matching. Still, over time newer boxes appeared featuring the letters P&T (Post & Telegraphs) and later An Post.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage ( has a comprehensive archive of post boxes throughout the country, as well as where to find the most interesting older ones, including examples of the rare "Penfold Hexagonal" post box.