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Bridges of Dublin City, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our: Bridges of Dublin city series. There are 21 bridges spanning the River Liffey, each with their own story to be told.. In a three-part blog series we will introduce you to each one of these bridges and give you a little history about them.. Below are the next set of seven bridges in the spotlight.

Mellows Bridge

Joining Queen Street on the north side with Bridgefoot Street on the south side, this three arch stone structure is the oldest surviving bridge over the Liffey.

Completed in 1768 it predates Richmond Bridge, London’s oldest bridge, by ten years. With the restoration of the Monarchy in England, and the return of James Duke of Ormond as Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, a massive regeneration of the city took place. Traditionally houses built by the Liffey backed onto the river and it was where residents disposed all manner of domestic waste. It was due to the influence of the Duke that houses now must face onto the river allowing room for a boulevard on both sides of the river. As a direct result of this and many other initiatives Dublin’s population grew from 50,000 to 120,000 and until the Act of Union was passed in 1801 it became the second city of The Empire.

With the rapid growth of the city there was an urgency to replace the original bridge, which had been washed away by flooding, and work commenced in 1764 and the bridge was officially opened in 1768. Initially named Queen’s Bridge for George III’s wife it later became Queen Maeve Bridge ( The Pirate Queen ) and finally Mellows Bridge in honour of Liam Mellows who was executed during the civil war.

Father Mathew Bridge

Above we mentioned Mellows Bridge as being the oldest surviving bridge over the river, however, Fr. Mathew Bridge is built on the site of the original Liffey crossing, which predates the Vikings. It was this ford in the river that gave us the name Baile Átha Cliath (The town of the hurdles), it was a simple ford crossing possible at low tide over a crude bed of hurdles and branches.

We had to wait until the arrival of the Normans for the first wooden bridge. From this point in time it appears that four bridges were built each to replace their predecessor, none of which stood the test of time.

One of these bridges built circa 1240 was called Ostman Bridge (Men from the East; another name for the Vikings) which would have given access to the settlement of Ostmantown, known today as Oxmanstown.

The last of these replacement bridges was built in 1428 and was in use for just under 400 years. The current bridge, designed by George Knowles for the Port of Dublin, was completed in 1818. Like many of Dublin's bridges, it has been given many names over the centuries, re-named Dublin Bridge in 1922, and finally in 1938 given the name we use today Fr. Mathew Bridge.

Millenium Bridge

Installed in December 1999 as one of Dublin Corporation’s millennium projects, It is a steel and concrete structure manufactured in Carlow. The deck weighing some 60 tonnes was transported by road to Dublin and hoisted into position by a single crane.

Built to encourage pedestrian traffic within the city, linking Temple Bar on the south side with the busy shopping areas of Jervis and Henry Streets.

The gentle gradient on the bridge together with the lack of steps makes it accessible to all. It is an ideal place to linger and take in the timeless movement of the river and enjoy the splendour of its neighbours The Ha’penny Bridge to the east and Grattan Bridge to the west.

O'Donovan Rossa Bridge

The first bridge on this site was a wooden structure, built by developer Humphrey Jervis in 1682, however, it had a very short life span being washed away by floods two years later. With the rapid expansion of the city in the late 17th century, especially on the north side of the river, the need for a more robust bridge was obvious. A new masonry bridge was constructed in 1864 and named Ormond Bridge, for the then Lord Lieutenant The Duke of Ormond. From the outset the bridge was deemed to be of poor quality and this was compounded by the fact that the City Fathers spent little or nothing on its upkeep or maintenance.

Throughout its life the bridge suffered damage from flood waters on numerous occasions, the most notable of these occurred in 1760. To the horror of witnesses, part of the southern arch collapsed into the river taking with it Mrs. Archer’s Tavern, its customers and its stock, all disappearing into the river. Miraculously there was no loss of life as the Liffey ferrymen succeeded in saving all who had the misfortune to be in the tavern on that fateful day.

A repair was carried out but the bridge was seen by engineers at the time as a disaster waiting to happen. It was in December 1802 that a large body of flood water rushing down the river towards the sea finally washed the bridge away. Although a design and location for a new bridge was agreed in 1805, construction only started in 1813. This three span bridge built of Wicklow granite was completed in 1816 and named Richmond Bridge, again for the Lord Lieutenant of the time Charles Lennox 4th Earl of Richmond. Like many of the Liffey bridges, this one was re-named by the fledgling Irish Government in 1923 as O’Donovan Rossa Bridge to honour his part in the struggle for independence.

Ha'Penny Bridge

Prior to the installation of the bridge a ferry owner, William Walsh, operated 7 small craft which carried passengers, somewhat perilously, across the river charging a toll of a Half Penny (Ha’Penny) per journey. When Dublin Corporation inspected his vessels, which were found to be in various stages of neglect and disrepair, Walsh was given the choice of either repairing and upgrading the ferry boats or building a bridge, he chose the latter.

He received £3000 in compensation for the loss of his ferry business and also was given the exclusive lease of the bridge for 100 years during which time he could charge pedestrian a toll of a Half Penny for each journey taken. Tolls ceased in 1919 but over the preceding century it proved to be a very lucrative business for William Walsh and his descendants.

Cast in Shropshire England it was transported to Dublin in eighteen sections and assembled on site. Opened in May 1818 it offered Dubliners 10 days of toll free use thereafter tolls were collected at turnstiles at either end of the bridge. When opened it was one of the first cast iron bridges in the world.

As footfall increased over the lifetime of the bridge, from approximately 450 per day in 1818 to 27,000 per day in 1998, Dublin Corporation realised that a major restoration project was necessary. The work began in early 2001 and by December 2001 the bridge had been completely renovated and reassembled on site. The restoration was so thorough that over 85% of the original components were saved and are still part of the bridge we see today.

Prior to our current restrictions daily footfall had increased to over 30,000. For most of its existence it was the only pedestrian bridge over the Liffey until its near neighbour, The Millennium Bridge, opened in December 1999. As with most of the Liffey Bridges it has had a number of names associated with it, among them Wellington Bridge and Iron Bridge but its official title is and has always been The Liffey Bridge, however, to generations of Dubliners, me included, it will always be known as The Ha’Penny Bridge

Grattan Bridge

The original bridge on this site was built by Humphrey Jervis to connect his developments on the north side of the river, i.e. Capel and Jervis Streets, to the south side and a direct route to Dublin Castle.

Originally named Essex Bridge for the Lord Lieutenant of the day, Arthur Capell 1st Earl of Essex, the bridge suffered significant flood damage over a number of years and by 1750 architect and engineer, George Semple, convinced the authorities that now was the time to restore the bridge to avoid a major tragedy. Between 1753 and 1755 the bridge was substantially re-built. Semple pioneered new methods of constructing bridge foundations and the current five arch stone structure of the bridge we see today is a testament to his innovations. His maxim was that the bridge would last as long as the Sugar Loaf. This was one of the first projects of The Wide Streets Commission.

As the city grew, the existing bridge was considered to be too steep and too narrow and so, in 1872 Bindon Blood Stoney, chief engineer of Dublin Port, was commissioned to both widen and flatten the bridge. It was completed in 1874 and re-named Grattan Bridge in honour of Henry Grattan MP. Very little has changed on the bridge over the last 140 years and the cast iron lamps still stand proudly on the latticed parapets. Despite the various names given to it over the years it will always be Capel Street Bridge to me.

O'Connell Bridge

Originally called Carlisle Bridge for the Lord Lieutenant of the day, Frederick Howard 5th Earl of Carlisle, the bridge, designed by James Gandon, opened in 1794. This new bridge was not welcomed with open arms by all. With the new Custom House, another of Gandon’s designs, completed in 1791 the centre of commercial life inevitably moved eastwards towards the mouth of the river away from its roots in the Medieval Quarter.

By the early 1800’s the bridge, with the ever increasing volume of traffic, needed constant maintenance but it wasn’t until 1877 that work began to flatten and widen the bridge. Bindon Blood Stoney, chief engineer of the Port of Dublin, who had completed similar work on Grattan Bridge some years earlier was commissioned to complete the task. Stoney stayed true to Gandon’s original design of a three arched bridge built with granite and Portland stone but he almost doubled the width to align it with wider streetscape of Sackville (O’Connell), D’olier and Westmoreland Streets.

The bridge fully reopened in 1880 and was renamed O’Connell Bridge for Daniel O’Connell “The Liberator”, whose statue looks down on the bridge today. One unusual fact about the bridge is that it is wider than it is long being some 45 meters long and 50 meters wide. No matter how much the City expands I know that O’Connell Bridge is always going to be at the heart of it

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