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The insider guide to 5 Cork bridges - and the little details you should look twice at

From the Shakey Bridge, to the bridge with a cell for drowning prisoners.

Image: LWYang

CORK IS HOME to multiple iconic bridges that reflect the city and its rich history. 

“The city has around twenty nine, thirty bridges and each one is different in design,” says Dr Kieran McCarthy, a Cork city councillor and historian. “The way Cork developed was in a very piecemeal fashion. There was never any overall plan so the bridges served a purpose for a certain point in time.”

We decided to spotlight five of Cork’s most well-known bridges and shed a light on how they came to be.  

Daly’s Bridge

Known by Corkonians as Shakey Bridge, this pedestrian-only suspension bridge is the only one of its kind in Cork. Designed by then Cork City Engineer Stephen W Farrington, the bridge opened in 1927 and was built to provide access from Sunday’s Well to Fitzgerald’s Park.

“It’s known for people jumping up and down on it,” laughs Dr McCarthy. “There’s an affection for it. Sometimes people look at bridges and go, ‘Oh my car can go across this,’ whereas this one is next to Fitzgerald’s Park so there’s a nice sense of place and pride about it.”

The iconic structure is set to undergo extensive repair and restoration works, but Cork City Council has promised that the shakiness will remain intact. 

South Gate Bridge

It is believed there has been a bridge on this site since the arrival of the Vikings in the ninth century. Over the past thousand years, there have been at least four or five bridges have stood there. The current limestone arch bridge was built in 1713 making it the oldest bridge in the city. 

According to Dr McCarthy, it has quite a storied past. A prison was once located at the end of the bridge. An illustrated map from around 1600 shows heads of prisoners being displayed on spikes on South Gate Bridge. “It was sort of warning ‘If you mess with us, we’ll mess with you,’’ explains Dr McCarthy.

That’s not all. The prison also came complete with a dungeon. 

“People would be thrown down into it and the tide would rise up around the dungeon wall and flood your cell through a gap in the wall,” says Dr. McCarthy. “It was a drowning cell.”

Indeed the bricked up dungeon is still visible under the bridge’s arch.  

St Vincent’s Bridge

An architectural gem showcasing Cork’s rich Victorian heritage, St Vincent’s Bridge was built in the 1870s to provide access to Wyse’s Distillery, a successful family-run distillery. The bridge provided access to the distillery for its workers.

Photogenic and aesthetically pleasing, the bridge has been given a facelift of late thanks to Reimagine Cork. The community group repainted the iconic red and black pillars, removed graffiti and helped restore it to its former glory.

At the end of the bridge is the former home of George Boole, one of the most influential mathematicians of the nineteenth century.  

Parliament Bridge

In the 1760s, a timber bridge was erected at the site of Parliament Bridge. It quickly fell into a state of disrepair resulting in the death of a local man. A more sturdy bridge was constructed in its place but it, too, was severely damaged by rainfall and flooding.

The current iteration has been in place since 1806 and was designed by William Hargrave. According to Dr McCarthy, the construction of the bridge coincided with the expansion and overall redesign of the city.

Years earlier, the city had filled in its canals, requiring more bridges to be built. Around the same time, South Mall became a fashionable, desirable area and a bridge was needed to meet demand. The rest is history.

Among the notable features are the “lovely balustrades” on either side. 

St Patrick’s Bridge

“Some of these bridges have had multiple lives,” says Dr McCarthy. “You can think a bridge has been there forever but it hasn’t.”

St Patrick’s Bridge, arguably the city’s best known bridge, has gone through multiple iterations having been destroyed and rebuilt several times over. The bridge was conceived as a means of helping butter merchants transport their wares across the River Lee. Plans to build a bridge weren’t popular among local ferrymen who saw it as a threat to their livelihoods.

The building of the first bridge commenced in the 1780s. It was swept away midway through construction, much to the dismay of its architect. The bridge was subsequently rebuilt from scratch and opened in 1789.

Unfortunately it didn’t survive long and was later destroyed by another flood in the 1850s. The present-day bridge was opened in 1861 and has been standing there ever since.

Striking features include gas lamps dating back to the 1860s (recently repaired in northern Italy) as well as carved keystones of St Patrick, St Bridget, Neptune and other sea goddesses. 

With thanks to Dr Kieran McCarthy. Visit Cork Heritage for more information on the city’s history and Dr McCarthy’s walking tours. 

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Amy O'Connor

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