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.
Sean Heuston Bridge
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.
It has played a part in Irish life for centuries and Dublin Castle had its origins back in time of the Vikings. It was originally settled on the high ground close to the Poddle and Liffey rivers and provided excellent an defence. However, with the Norman invasion in 1169 the old structure was demolished and a more permanent building was erected. King Henry II implemented this phase, which was completed in 1230 and was the beginning of the ‘Castle’ as we know it today. The Poddle was diverted underground and its water used to fill the moat that surrounded the fortress. Typical of Norman design there was a tower at each corner and the Record Tower (1228) is the only surviving one.
Over time many other buildings were added, especially in the Georgian period. The Treasury Building in the lower yard, the first purpose built office space in Dublin, was completed in 1714. In the upper yard the Bedford Tower, named for the Duke of Bedford who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was constructed in the 1750s. And it was from here in July 1907 that one of the most infamous events in the Castle’s history took place when the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen on the eve of the visit of King Edward VII. They have never been recovered.
As the centre of British power it was often challenged with it coming under attack during Robert Emmet’s short-lived rising in 1803 and Easter 1916. British power ceased on the 16th January 1922 when Michael Collins took possession on behalf of the new Irish Free State.
An exhibition of sand statues is now held every August in the upper yard. It has become a favourite with locals and tourists alike, with different characters and themes being addressed. While taking a photograph of Samuel Beckett a man beside me commented that ‘Becket was not only a sound man, but now he was a sand man, too.’ The striking image of the ‘Feet of Sand’ seemed very appropriate in a place with such sensitive political overtones.
Feet of Sand
Also in the upper yard are the State Rooms which were originally constructed for the Lord Lieutenant’s personal accommodation and entertainment. Nowadays, these lavishly furnished rooms – St Patrick’s Hall, Throne Room, State Drawing Room and State Corridor – are used for Government engagements including the inauguration of Presidents and State visit ceremonies.
St Patrick’s Hall
Pearse and flag.
The great house, The Hermitage, was built in 1780 for Edward Hudson, a successful Dublin dentist in 1780, and over the following years the grounds were laid out. There are forested areas where a fine selection of local flora and fauna is found, along with a number of follies, a hermit’s cave and a faux dolmen and Ogham stone.
In 1910 Padraig Pearse, who had opened his school St Enda’s (Scoil Eanna) in Cullenswood House, Ranelagh in 1908, decided to move ‘to the country’ when he visited St Enda’s Park. This was due to his interest in both teaching Irish (he was adamant about pupils being bilingual) and that they should have a strong interest in nature. The curriculum and teaching methods were very popular and soon attracted many students. However, with Pearse’s growing involvement in republican matters, the school’s prospects soon began to suffer. Only a matter of days after the fighting ended, he and his brother Willie, along with Thomas McDonagh (assistant headmaster and signatory of the Proclamation of Independence) were executed for the part in the Easter Rising. Without Pearse’s direction and energy the school, inevitably, went into decline. It was run for a time by their mother who, with the influx of funds after the executions, was able to buy the property. However, due to the falling numbers of pupils the school closed its doors for the last time in 1935. Following the death of Pearse’s sister (Margaret Mary Pearse) 1968, the ownership of the property was transferred to the State.
The Hermitage and renovations
Recently, the building has been extensively renovated with many of the rooms now on show as they were in Pearse’s time, namely; his study, the sitting-room, art gallery (with a number of sculptures by Willie Pearse) and a pupils’ dormitory. A large, timber three-legged table upon which Robert Emmet was decapitated is an interesting, if little publicised and macabre, item of historical interest. Outside, the gardens, courtyard restaurant, paths and bubbling fountain are a perfect place for a walk and quiet reflection. It’s a hidden gem!