Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pat Liddy Liffey Walk

After the previous Pat Liddy walks, I couldn't wait to go for another. This walk would be a look at the River Liffey in Dublin and her many bridges. The event coincided with two other initiatives this Spring, the Bridges of Dublin project and the annual One City, One Book literary festival.

Each year, One City, One Book chooses a book with a Dublin or Ireland connection. The idea is that the whole city (or as many who choose to participate) read this book together. Events are held throughout the city over the course of the festival tying in to the book, like a citywide book club. In previous years, the city has selected such classics as The Picture of Dorian Grey, Dubliners, and Dracula. This year, they threw us all a curveball by selecting a recently-published collection of poems and stories set in Dublin by various authors, past and present. If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song celebrates this great literary city in a number of ways, none of which I could read... because it isn't in the public domain and libraries had understandably long waiting lists for a free loan.

So, to the walk. Mr. Liddy had a special route planned visiting several important Dublin bridges while reading selected Liffey-related poems from the book. The walk was free, so I thought I would absorb the book through osmosis... or hearing... you know.

Following is a brief description of some of the bridges we saw and discussed. Links are included to the corresponding page on the Bridges of Dublin website. High-quality photos and more in-depth information on each bridge can be found on those pages. 

We met at Meeting House Square in Temple Bar, home of our favorite Saturday Temple Bar Food Market, but the square was empty today but for the healthy crowds that these walks always draw. We began at the famous Ha'penny Bridge, an iconic Dublin Landmark.

Ha'penny Bridge on St. Patrick's Day Dublin 2014
Ha'penny Bridge on St. Patrick's Day

The bridge was originally built as a replacement to a fleet of unsafe privately-owned ferries crossing the river. The owner of the ferries was appeased by the Dublin City authorities by allowing him to build, operate, and charge the half-penny (Ha'penny) toll on the bridge for no less than one hundred years. Apparently, he (and his heirs) did just that from 1816-1916. At this time the toll was finally halted and the bridge was renamed officially the Liffey Bridge, but the Ha'penny nickname was too sticky to remove. Look today and see the remnants of the original turnstiles used to collect the toll from pedestrians crossing the bridge.

Looking farther downriver (east), we see the most famous and most-used bridge in Dublin, O'Connell Bridge. It has been through a lot in its long history, seen it all. Today, it is the gateway to Dublin's main drag, O'Connell Street and is famous for being one of the very few bridges in Europe that is wider than it is long. Such is the case when a bridge has to handle four lanes of cars and buses and wide walkways for the thousands of pedestrians crossing the bridge every day. I like it because it houses the cheeky memorial to Father Pat Noise.

The newest bridge in Dublin, the Rosie Hackett Bridge, is just east of O'Connell. It was just finished and opened in May 2014 as a public transport priority bridge. Bus and taxi lanes cross the bridge next to pedestrian walkways and bicycle tracks, but private vehicles are not allowed on the bridge. One day, the Luas light rail system will cross this bridge, finally linking the two bafflingly separated lines of this public transport system. Choosing the name of this bridge involved a long series of public name submissions and many steps of voting and vetting. They finally arrived at Rosie Hackett, a trade union supporter involved in the 1913 Lockout and later the 1916 Rising. It is the first bridge over the Liffey to be named for a woman. Good on you, Dublin!

Another pedestrian-only bridge farther down is the Sean O'Casey Bridge. We use this bridge often when taking a shorter, traffic-free route from St. Stephen's Green park to the north side of the river. It has been apparently dubbed by some as The Quiver on the River for the scary (but by design) bouncing and flexing of the bridge when occupied.

The last iconic bridge on the river is the one named for Samuel Beckett. This one is unmissable in any river view of the city, the big stringy thing that it is. This bridge has some unique architectural features. The design is that of an Irish harp set on its side, the harp strings being the support cables of the structure. The main piece was constructed off site and floated here on a barge before being installed. It rotates ninety degrees into the river to allow tall ships passage on a huge ball-and-socket joint set on one end. I haven't yet seen this phenomenon, but I understand it is quite a sight. 

Check out the Bridges of Dublin website for much more information about these and the many other bridges crossing the river. Bridges are an interesting historical topic to explore, given that they have such economic, political, and military strategic importance in any city. 

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