Most seasoned Dubliners, probably feel like they’ve seen all the city has to offer; every lush park; historic Georgian row; every cobbled street, arching bridge and Victorian pub. The familiar can be taken for granted though.
So what if we told you about a new way of seeing the city? We’re not talking about a rickshaw or a longboard. Instead we’re talking about kayaking… on the Liffey. City Kayaking are based on the jetty by the Jeanie Johnston tall ship on North Wall Quay, where the city meets the Docklands. Jonathan, our guide, begins by outlining the route upstream and equipping us with waterproof jackets and life vests. We’re advised to change into shorts or leggings as it’s impossible not to get wet to some extent. We duly follow his advice and our group is ready to take to the water. You can go in tandem with a pal or solo but it’s probably a little easier, and more enjoyable, in tandem. Aren’t experiences like this better shared?
For a start, it’s a great experience to paddle up to the underside of the Jeanie Johnston tall ship, taking in the details from a new angle and experiencing the vast size of it; like walking up to the base of the Spire and gazing upwards. We paddle out into the river and immediately get a sense of the busy streets on the Quays from the tranquillity of the water rocking you gently in your vessel. You can paddle downstream to take a look at the gigantic harp that is Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett Bridge (built 2009).
Mellows was executed by firing squad in Mountjoy Jail for his part in the bitter Civil War
Paddling upstream towards Guinness is, thankfully, easy enough. City Kayaking make sure that all their tours are at high tide, when there’s less of a current and you can glide across the water with relative ease. Gandon’s Custom House, is the first major city landmark on the tour, and its beautiful architecture is breathtaking when unobstructed by city traffic and the Loopline bridge (built 1891). Paddling on, we come to Rosie Hackett Bridge (built 2014), the newest crossing point and the most technologically advanced. Built to facilitate LUAS Cross City southbound trams and other public transport, it’s named after the inner city native who was involved with both the 1916 Rising and the trade union movement.
Next up is O’Connell Bridge (built 1880), the busiest pedestrian and public transport thoroughfare in the country. Watch out for the headstones on the centre arches, with the Atlantic on the east side and Anna Liffey on the west. There’s something quite bizarre about finding yourself hidden beneath hundreds of passers by. It’s a tranquil 50 metres but you can spot evidence of the improvement works required to keep this workhorse going. Emerging to a clear stretch of water to Ha’penny (built 1816), you’ll probably get some strange looks from tourists and passers by on the boardwalk. Ha’penny is the skinniest of the bridges and was the only pedestrian bridge over the river for 183 years until Millennium bridge (built 1999) was built beside it.
The smell of hops from Guinness marks our turning point back towards the Docklands
Jonathan, our guide, instructs us to keep into the southside of the river as the Liffey Sightseeing Tour boat passes (thankfully with a small wake) and we make our way further west. We’re into the old heart of the city now with U2’s Clarence Hotel once being the old Custom House before it moved east to Gandon’s new building in 1791. On approaching the Four Courts you’ll pass under O’Donovan Rossa bridge (built 1816), so named after the famous Irish republican of the nineteenth century. This bridge has unique key stones on each arch, Plenty, Anna Livia and Industry on the east side, while those on the west are Commerce, Hibernia and Peace. Next stop is Father Mathew Bridge (built 1818) at Church St. It’s the oldest crossing point on the river with references to a bridge going back as far as the turn of the first millennium. The present day bridge is almost a carbon copy of O’Donovan Rossa, as the designer worked off the same plans and they were built within two years of each other.
We’re in the home stretch when we encounter the oldest city bridge, Mellows (built 1768), at Queen St. It’s older than any of the bridges crossing the Thames in London and is named after Liam Mellows. Mellows was executed by firing squad in Mountjoy Jail for his part in the bitter Civil War that divided the country in the early 1920s. Beyond Mellows is James Joyce, designer Santiago Calatrava’s first Liffey bridge (built 2003). It lies low in the river, a modern sleek and concrete structure that ferries traffic up to Stoneybatter and beyond to the northside. Finally we reach Rory O’More bridge (built 1861) with its vibrant blue iron, cast in St Helen’s Foundry in Lancashire, England. The gate house on the west side of IMMA in Kilmainham originally stood on the south end of the bridge here, but was removed stone for stone and relocated.
The smell of hops from Guinness marks our turning point back towards the Docklands. Jonathan tells us they are now providing special tours with miniature concerts beneath some of the bridges. Having passed under each of them, we can only imagine what a unique experience that must be. Back at base we disembark, change into drier clothes and leave with a new appreciation for the city.
For bookings, rates and availability check out citykayaking.com. Tours run from April to September.
Additional reporting by Anthony Mc Guinness