Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin

Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin

The first pedestrian bridge to cross the Liffey

In the great span of history before the modern era of industrialisation, humble ferries plied their trade upon this stretch of water. From the enigmatically named Bagnio Slip on the south shore, the ferryman heaved upon the oars of his oft overcrowded and betimes doomed ferry, to deliver his motley bunch of passengers to the far side.

Then in May 1816 this charming, elliptical arch bridge opened to offer passage via its timber gangway to any Dubliner willing to pay a ha’penny, the exact price of the then redundant ferry and payable to William Walsh, ferry owner and alderman of the city. He retired his leaking ferries and was compensated with £3,000 and the bridge lease for one hundred years.

Image of Ha’penny Bridge
Ha’penny Bridge (1953) © Fáilte Ireland

The first pedestrian bridge to cross the Liffey, it was a welcome relief for Dubliners accustomed to vying with horse, carriage and cart in an era before any demarcation between vehicle and man on the public highways or bridges.

It retained its position as the only pedestrian bridge to span the river until the opening of the Millenium Bridge in 1999. World renowned as the Ha’penny Bridge, in reference to that toll, but officially the Liffey Bridge since 1922, it has variously been known as the Wellington, Metal, Triangle or Iron Bridge. The Bagnio Slip, near an infamous brothel, is no more, the crossing now takes pedestrians from Merchant’s Arch to Liffey Street on the north side.

The bridge has a 43 metre span, is 3 metres in width and rises an elegant 3 metres above the river. The superstructure is composed of three arch ribs, each formed in six segments. Seen today in the original off white colour, it has, in the past, been dignified with less complimentary tones – black and silver – and covered in advertising hoardings. Dublin City Council undertook an extensive refurbishment of the bridge in 2001 with engineers and conservationists working together on the award winning restoration.

In that bygone era, when the Ha’penny Bridge first opened, a mere 450 pairs of feet daily walked this way. In a vastly expanded Dublin, today an average of 30,000 people cross each day and would be glad to pay a ha’penny to do so!

Ha’penny bridge Dublin images

A few images of Ha’penny bridge

Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin
Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin
Ha'penny bridge Dublin images
Ha’penny bridge Dublin images

It was manufactured in England

Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge is even more beautiful when illuminated at night. An iron pedestrian arch bridge that crosses the River Liffey, it’s one of the city’s most famous bridges.

It was manufactured in England, brought over by ship, and assembled on site in 1816. The bridge got its name from the small toll of “ha’pennies” that was required to cross it.

How did Ha’penny bridge get its name

The bridge across the city’s River Liffey was first built in May 1816, but how did it get its famous nickname?

Officially the Liffey Bridge since 1922 – likely an attempt to shake the bridge of its colonial origins – it is still commonly known to Dubliners as the Ha’penny Bridge but neither of these were the intended name when it first opened.

It was originally to be called the Wellington Bridge

It was originally to be called the Wellington Bridge after the Dublin-born Duke of Wellington, in recognition of his defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo a year previously.

.. and Triangle Bridge

Name Wellington Bridge didn’t stick and in fact many of the city’s inhabitants took to referring to it as the Triangle Bridge.

This was a sardonic nod towards the controversial background of John C. Beresford. A former Tory parliamentarian, Beresford had actively apposed the United Irish rebellion.

His riding school premises in Dublin had become known by republicans for the vicious beatings given to prisoners in the aftermath, in particular the practice of flogging prisoners upon a triangle scaffold.

Ha’penny bridge Dublin love locks

Couples typically place the locks on bridges – the Ha’penny Bridge attracts most of them in Dublin, but they’re also on the Samuel Beckett Bridge and a couple of others – as a symbol of their love. But the locks damage the structures and, as the council pointed out in an email, there is “also a problem in the river with the volume of keys being thrown in”.

Ha'penny bridge Dublin love locks
Ha’penny bridge Dublin love locks

LOVE-struck couples attaching locks to the Ha’penny Bridge are costing the council thousands of euro to prevent it from collapsing. The Dublin landmark has been dubbed The Lock Love Bridge.

The council cleared the bridge recently, but then more locks appeared. Cllr Mannix Flynn said: “What’s going on is atrocious. The Ha’penny bridge is akin to a national monument and as important as the GPO. “Yet it has been left vandalised by tourists who are doing malicious damage to it.

Dublin city council will remove the locks every two weeks

Mr Gorman said the council had just entered into an arrangement with a contractor to remove the locks every two weeks, rather than three or four times a year as previously. “So we have to see how this goes.”

Renovation of the bridge

In 2001 the number of pedestrians using the bridge on a daily basis hit 27,000 and it was high time for a structural survey. Perhaps unsurprisingly it was found that renovation was required.

The bridge closed for much of the year, finally reopening in December. Repair work was entrusted to Belfast-based engineering company Harland and Wolff.

1000 individual rail pieces

Over 1000 individual rail pieces were labelled, removed and sent to Northern Ireland for repair, restoration and painting. Such were the efforts made, that 85% of the original railwork was retained.

It was rebuilt to contain as many of the original components as possible and upon completion it was given a fresh coat of white paint.

The 1980s lighting was removed, subtle recessed lighting installed and the bridge mouths smoothed and curved in granite at either end for the comfort and safety of pedestrians.

A stepped ramp replaced the steep gradient of old and the deck was given a modern anti-slip surface. After this year long restoration process, costing €1.25million, the bridge reopened on December, 21, 2001.

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