Signs of a Real Irish Pub

Johnny Blair

Johnny Blair

Most countries have embassies abroad. Ireland has pubs.

This adage rings especially true here in the land down under. We have no lack of cozy, wood-paneled Irish pubs, from the business districts of our cities to the dusty wide streets of corrugated iron country towns. After all, many of the convict settlers of this land hailed from the Emerald Isle.

Two such establishments – in Sydney’s Drummoyne and Parramatta districts – go by the name P. J. Gallagher’s, with the slogan “A Real Irish Pub”. But what is it, exactly, that makes a pub “Irish”? Is it the wood paneling, the live fiddler in the back corner? friendly and talkative staff? It’s a thousand things, of course, but not least is the signage.

Unlike the early convicts, world-traveling Irishman Johnny Blair arrived in Australia of his own free will. For a time, he filled pints of Guinness at P. J. Gallaghers. Here are a few of his thoughts about watering-holes and their signage:

Don, I’m totally with you on the handcrafted signage. Much better, much more authentic, much more professional and it also takes hard work. Irish people like to work hard as a tradition of our lifestyle. Making a proper sign is much better than getting a marker and writing “Irish Pub” on a piece of metal. Appearance means a lot. Go with the handcrafted signs and I encourage any Irish pub owners or landlords to get a proper sign made. Danthonia is a great company for signs in Australia. I might be tempted to pop in for a Guinness then!

Ireland (mainly the south) had some financial problems in recent times, so any companies providing jobs, work or money was a bonus which can certainly excuse the rise of commercialism in pubs. However, you ask an average Irishman what type of pub he prefers and I’m sure they’ll say an old poky style pub where you can sit with a beer, talk to your mates, listen to music, drink a bit too much whiskey and pretend there’s nothing bad happening in the world. They’ve been around for generations and they will continue to be around for generations.

Ireland is renowned for its hospitality, music, stories, and humour, and I am a walking stereotype. I’ve worked in hospitality, I love talking to people, I tell stories, I listen to music in pubs and I try to be sarcastic. The layout and design of Irish pubs in Australia are pretty similar to those back home (if just a bit more modernised). There are some distinct differences however. We don’t really have widescreen TVs and sit typing on our mobile phones back in Ireland. We go to the pub to get away from computers etc. and I’d rather watch the footy on a small TV in the corner of an old pub with my mates without a phone in sight.

To find a proper Irish pub in Ireland these days, you really need to go rural, out into the countryside where there is less commercial influence. You’ll still find Guinness, Bushmills, Murphy’s and Kilkenny but you won’t find too many adverts from non-Irish companies. I’d cringe if I saw a country pub being bought over by a big chain of pubs. I’m a traditionalist. A down to earth proper Irish pub is my scene, and yes Australia has a lot of them and they’re great craic! But some of the Irish Pubs in Australia just don’t really represent Ireland that well.  Each to their own, it’s a free commercial world we live in!

In Ireland, a few craftsmen like Tomás Tuipear carry on the traditional pub sign craft. In terms of authenticity, our work could never touch that of Tomás, but here’s a few of our signs at Gallagher’s:

P. J. Gallagher's Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Monument Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Menu Boards

P. J. Gallagher's Under-Awning Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Indoor Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Blade Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Wall Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Wayfinding Sign

Johnny also took a few photos of the signs we made for P. J. Gallaghers and posted them on his popular travel blog Don’t Stop Living. While he clearly enjoyed the authentic look of the signs, he may not have known the story behind them. Here it is.

Australians who visit Ireland are often surprised to find that the island has no poisonous snakes at all. Legend holds that they were driven into the sea by Saint Patrick, some time between 387 – 460 A.D. The P. J. Gallagher’s logo symbolises this story with an image of snakes fleeing before a lion (representing Ireland’s patron saint).

P. J. Gallagher's Logo

P. J. Gallagher’s Logo

So, if you enjoy a pint of Guinness or Kilkenny now and then, support the sign-crafting community and drink it in a real Irish pub with a real Irish pub sign!


Sign Painters & Sign Carvers

If you happen to live in Asheville, Austin or Istanbul, or any of the other locations listed here, and – like me – you are fascinated by traditional sign-making, get a few like-minded friends together and go watch The Signpainters, a documentary about hand-lettering in America. It’s a movie by photographer Faythe Levine & filmmaker Sam Macon, that has been a few years in the making, but is now showing in a theatre near (or maybe not so near) you.

Faythe Levine

Faythe Levine

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Faythe about the project. I asked her where the idea of the Sign Painters movie came from.

I had a group of friends who started hanging out in a sign shop in Minneapolis back in the 90’s. It was through them I discovered that being a “sign painter” was actually a job. Now, 15 years later all those friends have full time sign shops and are all involved in some part of this project.

Was one of them our good friend Mike Meyer of Mike Meyer Signs?

No….but Mike is great, we were so glad to have him involved with the final project.

Will the movie help keep the lettering craft alive?

I think our movie will provide an accessible go-to for helping people understand the importance of the role sign painters have played and will continue to play in our lives.

Does she see a revival of traditional sign-making techniques?

There has definitely been a boom of interest from a younger design motivated audience over the course  of our production.

Would she ever make a sequel?



Poster fo Sign Painters Movie

Hand-painted (well, duh.) poster by Jeff Canham

As with all good things, there’s also a book version:

Sign Painters Book Cover

Cover for the Sign Painters Book

Having said all of that, I must add we’ve done precious little hand-lettering at our shop. That’s because we’re primarily a carving shop. Our signs are three-dimensional. If the sign painters in this movie are fighting the vinyl cutter, we sign-carvers are rebelling against the CNC router. I hope the sign-carving craft gets a documentary too, some day!

Hand-Lettered Sign for Cafe Legato

This is the one of the few signs we’ve made with authentic hand-lettered type. The words “Cafe Legato” just didn’t want to be restricted by a paint mask. The sign hangs in San José, California. Cafe owner Rodelio said “Wow! you guys did a good job…Thank you so much and I will surely recommend you to my friends in business.”

Cafe Legato Hand-Lettered Logo

See what I mean?

And finally, to end with, a little lettering demonstration from Dan Madsen of Dusty’s Signs, (Minneapolis, Minnesota):

No that won’t be in the sign painter movie, that’s a short promo clip my friend Hunter Johnson made for me. – Dan


Post Signs and Free Standing Signs

Our hanging signs and free standing signs are becoming more and more popular, as our customers realize the benefit of sourcing custom metal work from the same supplier as their hand crafted signage.   These signs are ideal for the end of long driveways, providing a quality welcome statement to your property.   As you can see in the photo below they can also be ordered with mountings for a hanging flower basket to give it that added touch.

Post Sign with Flower Basket

Post Sign with Flower Basket
Free Standing Entrance Sign

Free Standing Entrance Sign