THE HA’PENNY BRIDGE is no stranger to relationship problems – Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott once staged a famous break-up scene on the Dublin city landmark as part of the video for his 1982 solo hit ‘Old Town’. In recent years though, the issue has been ‘love locks’ – those bulky chains of interlinking padlocks scrawled with couples’ initials and messages that appear on the bridge’s railings.
Anyone who lives in or visits the city regularly will notice how clumps of the locks – added by couples as a public display of their affection – seem to build-up gradually, before apparently disappearing overnight.
So who’s taking them down? Well, in some instances it’s Dublin City Council, who regard the practice as a nuisance which could damage the structure and paintwork. ‘Helping’ the council to tackle the problem are – believe it or not – a group of Dublin ‘hackers’ who like to pick padlocks as a hobby, and say it can be like a form of ‘meditation’ after a long day staring at a computer screen.
Sean Nicholls – a software programmer by trade like many of the group’s casual membership – says they first noticed the problem a few months ago. “We approached the council to see if they’d be open to some assistance” he told TheJournal.ie. When no response was forthcoming, they set about addressing the issue themselves, and have since collected ‘dozens’ of locks.
Some of the locks removed by Nicholls and the lockpickers group (Image: Sean Nicholls, via Flickr)
So far, this all may sound a little clandestine – but the lock-picking group makes no secret of how they go about their business. In fact, they say anyone who’s interested in finding out more about them and maybe getting involved is welcome to drop in to one of their fortnightly Tuesday night meet-ups at the TOG Hackerspace in Dublin 8. Nicholls says they often have up to twenty people coming along, and that the membership is mostly made up of software and IT professionals:
People who go to the lock-picking group are either software programmers or work in IT security. When you work with IT security issues it’s a natural progression to go from finding security faults in software to finding them in the real world. That’s how the idea came about originally.
The group began holding meetings around two years ago, with members bringing along their own tools and padlocks to demonstrate and hone their skills. More recently, those heading to the gatherings have been stopping by the Ha’penny Bridge – and occasionally other bridges in Dublin city centre – to stock up on locks for “practice material”.
“These things can cost twenty euro,” Nicholls says. “Couples are putting an investment in there – but the thing is they’re getting rusted, and they’re ruining the bridge. This way, at least someone’s getting some use from them”.
Nicholls says they have no desire “to step on the council’s toes” as they continue their official clean-up operation, but adds that the group has no qualms either about removing the love mementos, as it’s clear “they’ll be taken down eventually anyway”.
The scene at the Ha’penny Bridge this week – just a handful of ‘love locks’ (Image: Daragh Brophy/TheJournal.ie)
The Journal.ie made a quick trip down to the Ha’penny Bridge on Wednesday to assess the locksmiths’ (and the council’s) handywork, and found just a scattering of the padlocks adorning the railings. So, some progress, if not quite back to 1982 standards…