From sylvan Lucan, where the River Liffey gently curves toward Dublin City to where sea, sky and river meet on Dublin’s eastern fringe, the Liffey boasts some 24 bridges.

As we celebrate 200 years of Ha’penny Bridge in 2016, there are fascinating story to tell about each of them…

The newest of the Liffey bridges is the Rosie Hackett Bridge of 2014. A bridge of its time, built of stainless steel and concrete, it caters for the living city, providing a crossing for the pedestrian and for public transport. In the name alone – it is the only bridge within the city limits named for a woman – there is the kernel of the history of the modern state and the tale of an heroic woman.

The oldest bridge straddles the river in the western suburb of Chapelizod, a four arch stone bridge with royal connections of old and a more modern, Joycean inspired moniker: the Anna Livia Bridge dates to 1753.

The most far flung is Lucan Bridge. Completed around 1814, it is a timeless limestone structure embellished with cast iron balustrades, occupying a site where a bridge has forded the river since at least 1200.

Nestling around the stretch of river which flows by the site of the old city is the graceful trio of the O’Donovan Rossa, Mellows and Father Mathew bridges. Each is a three arch, masonry structure with Mellows, dating from 1768, being the elder statesman. Father Mathew Bridge stands where once stood the ancient city’s only ford and O’Donovan Rossa Bridge could boast, on its completion in 1816, of being the widest bridge in the city – even wider than any of London’s bridges of the time.

Dublin’s unique literary tradition is celebrated in another trio of namesake bridges: Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Seán O’Casey. Celebrated bridge builders of times past and present are represented too: Bindon B. Stoney, Alexander Stevens and Santiago Calatrava, to name but a few.

Farmleigh is Dublin’s forgotten bridge. A ghostly Victorian structure, it crosses the river in a quiet spot near the beautiful Farmleigh estate from which it takes its name. Yet, it was once the embodiment of Victorian innovation and invention, built from the funds of Ireland’s richest man of the time.

Phil Lynott - Old Town

Phil Lynott's 1982 single, Old Town, featuring the Ha'penny Bridge

Iconic structures pepper the river – the Ha’penny Bridge of 1816, O’Connell Bridge of 1880 and Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett Bridge of 2009 and stand as international icons of the city. As far back as 1792, the city had worldly aspirations – the quietly elegant structure of Island Bridge is reminiscent of Venice’s Rialto Bridge and was a favoured sketching spot for artists of the day.

The river has its share of necessary workhorse bridges, solid concrete structures, which belie the innovative engineering and design which underpin them: the West-Link and the newly renamed Thomas J. Clarke (previously East-Link) bridge come to mind.

All in, the bridges of Dublin are not mere structures, but witnesses to a thousand years and more of city history. Through each name, past and present, a piece of Dublin’s history comes to life. Tales of rebellion, patriotism, daring do, romance, greed, corruption and more besides seep from the very fabric of each bridge.

The Remarkable Story of Dublin’s Liffey Bridges, by Annette Black and Michael B. Barry, is published by Four Courts Press. For more, go to Bridges Of Dublin.ie

Annette Black

Annette is a writer and teacher living in Co. Wicklow. She is the author of the website bridgesofdublin.ie and the accompanying book. She has been written for numerous publications and contributed to Sunday Miscellany on RTÉ Radio 1.

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