We use them to get from one side to the other, but bridges are more than just physical things. Since we began making our way we recognised the need to span voids, and the concept of a bridge and its construction has held the imagination. And as the River Liffey makes its way on a 125 kilometre journey to Dublin Bay two dozen bridges with colourful and interesting histories play a major, if unnoticed and taken-for-granted, role in daily life.
Bridges have been built over the river long before records began. The earliest crossing points were mere fords and these were subsequently replaced by bridges. Old bridges were damaged, often swept away, and these were then replaced by newer, more stable structures. The oldest one is Anna Livia Bridge at Chapelizod which was completed in 1753. The name was bestowed on it in 1982, the 100th anniversary of the James Joyce’s birth, as this is how he refers to the Liffey in his great work Finnegans Wake.
Within the city limits, the oldest bridge is Mellows Bridge (Queen St to Bridgefoot St) dating from 1768. It was originally called Queen’s Bridge (after Queen Charlotte, wife of George III), but was renamed in 1942 in honour of Liam Mellows.
The recently opened Rosie Hackett Bridge (Marlborough St to Hawkins) is the only one named after a woman, the former trade union activist who played a part in the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Easter Rising. However, Island Bridge (1792) was for 130 years known as Sarah’s Bridge until the name was changed in 1922. Sarah Fane, Countess of Westmorland, was the wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and its beauty was compared to the Rialto in Venice. It was a popular spot with both sightseers and artists.
The James Joyce and Samuel Beckett Bridges, both designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava, are white, steel and the most modern of bridges. ‘Sam’ also opens to allow ships to pass, an impressive sight if you get a chance to see it. And, like its older neighbours, doing an important job that Dubliners appreciate, if not always crossing their minds.