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Fair City

From 1000 AD to Samuel Beckett: Dublin’s bridges in 10 fascinating facts…

One city bridge once had an entire pub fall off of it. Another was driven to Dublin on the back of a truck…

EVER WONDERED HOW many bridges cross the River Liffey? Which one’s the oldest? Or how the Ha’penny Bridge got its name? Well, wonder no more. A new website’s been unveiled by Dublin City Council containing all the information you could possibly want to know about the capital’s bridges — and then some.

From the quiet dignity of the Lucan Bridge to the concrete mundanity of the East Link, has been scouring the pages of to bring you the following semi-authoritative compilation of interesting details…

1. Father Matthew

The first crossing over the Liffey was built at the site where the Father Matthew Bridge stands today, between Church Street and Bridge Street Lower. For centuries, people just waded through a shallow ford from bank to bank. Later, Viking mercenaries constructed a timber frame bridge known as Dubhghalls’ Bridge, on which nine warriors were slaughtered while fleeing back to the city from the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.


2. Ha’penny

As most Dubliners know, the Ha’penny Bridge at Temple Bar is so called because it originally cost just half a penny to cross. But did you know why? Well, before it was built, a ferry crossed between the two banks, transporting people from northside to south. The toll was brought in as soon as the new arch bridge was constructed in 1816 — payable to to one William Walsh, ferry owner and city alderman. He retired his creaking ferries and was compensated with a lease on the bridge for 100 years.


3. Mellows

The longest surviving Liffey crossing, Mellows Bridge – which spans the river between Queen Street and Bridgefoot Street – was finished in 1768 at the site of the earlier ‘Arran Bridge’. The previous structure had collapsed as a result a of ferocious flood in 1763. Initially named the Queen’s Bridge for the wife of George III, the crossing later became the Queen Maeve Bridge. Its current name is in honour of Liam Mellows, an anti-Treaty republican executed during the Civil War in 1922.


4. Grattan

The Grattan Bridge – between Capel Street and Parliament Street – was completed in 1874 to replace an earlier narrower structure. The previous crossing had featured a huge statue of King George I, the English King who didn’t actually speak English. It was erected on a pier built on the upstream side of the bridge in 1722, but stayed in position for just a few decades; the statue was removed in 1753 and now resides in Birmingham.


5. O’Connell

Built by the impressively (and appropriately) named Bindon Blood Stoney, who was engineer for Dublin Port and Docks, the bridge was opened in 1880 and named after ‘The Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell. The crossing’s keystones were designed to represent Anna Livia looking westwards up the river and the Atlantic gazing outwards towards the open sea. Contrary to popular opinion, the structure is not a perfect square — it’s longer than it is wide by a mere five metres.


[Image: National Library of Ireland]

6. O’Donovan Rossa

The second oldest Liffey Bridge was completed in 1816, once again at the site of an earlier crossing — the first, a timber structure, was built in 1682 by the then-Lord Mayor. In 1760, Mrs Archer’s tavern — located on the south side of the river —  fell into the waters below along with part of the bridge’s southern arch. Fortunately for Mrs Archer and her regulars, there was no loss of life.


7. Matt Talbot

It’s not the most remarkable of the city’s bridges by a long way — but the Talbot Memorial Bridge, as it’s officially known, is named after quite a remarkable Dubliner. Born in 1856, Matthew Talbot was both a worker and a drunkard by the age of 12 — a common fate for those born poor in the inner city at the time. Famously, at the age of 16, he turned to God, gave up the bottle and fought temptation with prayer — sleeping on a plank, wearing heavy chains and knotted ropes daily, and attending mass each morning at 5am.


8. Millenium

Officially opened just days before the city celebrated the arrival of the year 2000, the Millenium Bride links Temple Bar with ‘The Italian Quarter’. For almost two centuries, the Ha’penny Bridge had been the city’s only pedestrian crossing, but there’s now three in place following the opening of the Sean O’Casey Bridge at the IFSC in 2005.  It’s perhaps the only modern bridge you can actually fit on the back of a lorry — the entire deck, weighing 60 tonnes, was driven to Dublin from Carlow and lifted into position by a single crane.


10. Sam Beckett

Named after the avant-garde playwright, Santiago Calatrava‘s concept for the Samuel Beckett Bridge was inspired by the flip of a coin — an Irish harp rotating through the air. Though opened only rarely, the main structure of the bridge rotates through 90 degrees to allow access for shipping. The superstructure, with its distinctive pylon, was constructed in Rotterdam and safely delivered into the mouth of the Liffey after a 628 mile sea journey. The force on the back cables of the bridge is equivalent to a people load of over 80,000 — a Croke Park full house.


[All images: Dublin City Council, unless otherwise stated]

So, there you have it. We’ve barely touched the surface here though. There’s tonnes more interesting details over at the council’s site — including some fascinating pictures of the Sam Beckett’s voyage from Rotterdam.

And to answer the question posed at the top of this page: the Rosie Hackett bridge, currently being built between O’Connell Bridge and Butt Bridge, will be the 24th bridge across the Liffey.

Do you have a favourite? Have your say below in the comments section.

No trolls.

Read: Meet the hackers’ group tackling the Ha’penny Bridge’s ‘love’ problem >

Pictures: Problems with Sam Beckett Bridge lead to spectacular recreation of ‘rainbow’ ad >

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