It is one of the most elegant bridges over the Liffey and was opened to pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic on 9th June 1829. It replaced a ferry service that had been operation for the previous hundred years and built to commemorate the visit of King George IV in August 1821. Daniel O’Connell was instrumental in raising funds for the bridge’s construction and the foundation stone was laid by the Marquis Wellesley on 12th December 1827.
It was designed by the English architect George Papworth (who designed other buildings in Dublin including the interior of the Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street) and built in less than a year. It cost £13,000. The engineering work was carried out by Richard Robinson’s company Phoenix Iron Works, Parkgate Street, its proximity helping the speedy construction.
Papworth’s design was chosen by King George and over the years it became known as King’s Bridge. It stayed that way until 1922 when it was changed to Sarsfield Bridge in honour of the great 17th military commander who fought against the Williamites until he left for France and fought in the army of King Louis XIV. He was wounded at the Battle of Landen, Belgium, on the 19th August 1693, and died three days later in Huy, and is buried in the grounds of St Martin’s Church. A plaque on a wall marks his approximate burial site. As he lay dying with his blood trickling away he is quoted as saying ‘Oh, if only this were for Ireland’.
The bridge name was changed in 1941 to its present one in honour of the youngest man to be executed in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. He and his thirteen volunteers occupied the Mendicity Institution, close to King’s Bridge, and surrendered when besieged by superior forces. He was executed on 8th May and buried in Arbour Hill with other executed leaders.
Weight restrictions were introduced after a review in 1980 which led to the construction of the nearby Frank Sherwin Bridge in 1982. However, a major refurbishment was carried in 2001-02 that allowed it to carry the LUAS light rail system, with the first trams crossing the Liffey in 2004. The bridge, thankfully, is still open to pedestrians.