The correct answer, if you want to know, is seventeen, starting at Sean Heuston Bridge and working all the way along the river to the Eastlink Bridge at Dublin Port. I’m not going to cover them all in this piece; I won’t be covering the bridges we all know, like O’Connell Bridge or the Ha’penny Bridge for that matter. What I will do is take a look at some of the ones to the west of O’Connell Bridge; ones I find interesting mainly due to who they’re named after or because of their historical importance.
-Sean Heuston Bridge (ex-King’s Bridge, Sarsfield Bridge) 1829
The first incarnation of the bridge was built in 1828/ 9 and named Kings Bridge to commemorate a visit by George IV to Dublin in 1821. After the declaration of the Free State in 1922, it was renamed Sarsfield Bridge, in memory of Patrick Sarsfield, leader of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1641. (I’ll talk about the 1641 Rebellion later.) In 1941 the bridge was again re-named, this time after Sean Heuston, a member of Na Fianna h-Éireann who played a prominent role in the Easter Rising of 1916.
At 19 years of age, Seán Heuston was Captain of a twenty three strong company of men, mostly Fianna h-Éireann members around his own age, who were directed by James Connolly to take “The Mendicity (Institute on Ushers Island) at all costs”. Their goal was to prevent British re-inforcements coming into the city from The Curragh Camp and the West. They held out until Wednesday afternoon, until they were scattered by the 10th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. One of the more striking stories of the Rebellion (or one of countless stories to tell of that week) is that of the Liutenant of the 10th Battalion, Lieutenant Gerald Aloysius Neilan who was shot and killed by a sniper from the Mendicity, while his brother Anthony Neilan took part in the Rising on the Rebel side. He was one of two Liutenants killed in Dublin that day, with another nine members of the 10th Batt. killed at the Mendicity, as per a report to Prime Minister Asquith by General Sir John Maxwell. Seán Houston was captured with 22 other men and executed by firing squad on May 8, 1916 in Kilmainham Jail on the charge that he “… did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of wars against His Majesty the king such act of being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the defence of the Realm and being done with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy.”
Kingsbridge Station was later renamed Heuston Station in his honour.
The Bridge itself was reconstructed in 2003 and now carries the LUAS from Tallaght to the Point.
– Rory O’Moore Bridge, (ex- Victoria & Albert Bridge, Queen Victoria Bridge) Watling Street to Ellis Street, 1859 (Previous structures: 1670, 1704)
“Oh lives there the traitor who’d shrink from the strife, who would add to the length of his forfeited life. And his country, his kindred, his faith would abjure; No we’ll strike for old Ireland and Rory O’Moore.”
This is an odd one. While the men charged with taking Dublin Castle in the 1641 Rebellion, Hugh Óg McMahon and Connor Maguire have no streets or bridges named after them in this city, Rory O’Moore (for while he was seen as the principal organisers of the 1641) was given the task of taking Derry and other northern towns and yet he gets a bridge in Dublin named after him!
1641 to 1653 were particularly bloody years in Irish History. The Rebellion of ’41, where an estimated 4, 000 protestant settlers were killed and many thousand more were ejected from their homes was the catalyst for the Conquest of Ireland. This, as everyone knows, led to the death or exile of an estimated 25% of the Irish Catholic population. What had started as a Coup d’Etat ended in the abject slaughter of a nation and the inditement into Irish history of a wholly unforgettable name- that of Oliver Cromwell. Little is known of O’Moore’s personal exploits in the Rebellion, barring personal accounts and praise from other rebels.
The original wooden bridge on this site, built in 1670, was officially named Barrack Bridge. However, it became known locally as Bloody Bridge, after the deaths of rioting Ferrymen who tried to tear it down at its opening in an ill-fated attempt to protect their livlihoods. The timber bridge was replaced by a stone bridge in 1704, with an elaborate watch tower on the northside of the bridge. That watch tower was later removed, stone by stone and rebuilt at the gates to the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, now the Mueseum of Modern Art. An image of the gates can be seen here. The bridge was replaced by the present day structure in 1859 and opened as the Victoria & Albert Bridge. The bridge was renamed in 1939 after Rory O’Moore.
– Mellows Bridge (ex- Mellowes Bridge, Queen’s Bridge, Queen Maeve Bridge) Queen Street to Bridgefoot Street, 1768 (Previous structure: 1683)
At 248 years of age, Mellows Bridge is the oldest existing bridge across the Liffey. An initial bridge, funded by William Ellis, a rich land owner to the north of the Liffey with help from the Dublin Corporation (who paid £700 of the £6000 it cost to build) stood on the spot for eighty years before being washed away in a storm in 1763. Ellis’ family were also bound to maintain the bridge, and work on a replacement bridge started almost straight away, and in 1768, the bridge we see today was opened as Queen’s Bridge. Another landmark to be renamed after the declaration of the Free State, Queen’s Bridge became Queen Maeve’s Bridge in 1922 (named after the mythological Irish Queen.) In 1942, the bridge was renamed Mellowes Bridge, and later Mellows Bridge, correcting the earlier mis-spelling of the name of War of Independance and Civil War veteran Liam Mellows.
With written history of the 1916 Rising consigning activity outside of Dublin in Easter Week to references and footnotes, the efforts of the ‘Fingal Battalion’ in Ashbourne, Co. Meath and Liam Mellows activity in Galway go largely uncelebrated. Liam Mellows was active in the IRB and Na Fianna h-Éireann and was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers. He was introduced to Socialism through James Connolly and it is reputed the Commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the ICA was deeply taken with the man, saying to his daughter Nora “I have finally met a man.” In Easter Week he was given command of the Western Division, a troop of some seven hundred men. They were badly armed, with no rifles but a large number of shotguns, and provisions were hard to maintain as aborted attempts on the RIC barracks in Oranmore and Clarinbridge led to the Division occupying a field outside of Athenry. They were eventually scattered when British Cruiser Gloucester entered Galway Bay and reinforcements arrived. He played an important role in the War of Independence as the “Director of Purchases,” was elected to the first Dáil in 1918 and was a blazing Anti-Treatyite. After the occupation of the Four Courts in June 1922, he was imprisoned in Mountjoy and was executed by the Free State on December 8th, 1922. DFallon has written a couple of bits with reference to Mellows here and here.
– Fr. Mathew Bridge (ex- Bridge of Dublin, Old Bridge, Whitworth Bridge) Church Street to Bridge Street Lower, 1818 (Previous structures: 1014, 1320, 1428)
While Mellows Bridge is the oldest bridge in the city, the site on which it stands only goes back as far as 1683. In the case of Fr. Mathew Bridge, there has been a crossing on this site since 1014, with evidence to suggest it was the site of a fording point long before that, and may be the original “Ford of the Hurdles” after which “Baile Atha Cliath” was named. The first reference to an actual bridge here, though, dates back to 1014, and may have been known as the Bridge of Dubhgall. The Bridge of Dubhgall lasted 300 years before being washed away and another timber structure was built in 1320. This bridge lasted 60 years before another flood washed it away. In the 1400’s the Dominicans commisioned another msonry built bridge and to be intended as a permanent crossing. The bridge became known as Old Bridge and spanned four arches, with a tower at either end and each side of the bridge lined with inns, stores, housing and a chapel. It was the site of the only bridge crossing the Liffey until 1674. I can’t help but marvel at the thought of this structure and what it might have looked like, with whole generations growing up on a bridge in the middle of the Liffey. The bridge lasted until 1818, when it was replaced by the current structure after the river bed on the north side subsided, causing irreparable damage to the structure of the bridge.
The Bridge was named Whitworth Bridge after the then Earl of Whitworth, Lord Liutenant of Ireland, it was renamed after Father Theobald Mathew (the Apostle of Temperance) in 1938. Incidentally, two of the bridges over the Liffey deal with the subject of temperance, the other of course being Matt Talbot Bridge.
– O’Donovan Rossa Bridge (ex- Richmond Bridge, Ormond Bridge) Chancery Place to Winetavern Street, 1816 (Previous structures: 1682, 1684)
“The fools, the fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead- And while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” The immortal words of one Padraig Pearse, delivered at an oration over Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s grave on the first of August 1915. For while O’Donovan Rossa was world renowned during his lifetime, raising funds in America for a bombing campaign on English soil, it was undoubtedly in death that he made the greatest contribution to the Republican cause. Born to tennant farmers in Cork in 1831, Rossa founded an organisation called the “Phoenix National and Literary Society” for the “liberation of Ireland by force” in 1856, but it was membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and alleged involvement in plotting the Fenian Rebellion of 1865, that caused him to be charged, without trial, of high treason and sentanced to penal servitude. Years of ill- treatment in British jails followed and he was eventually deported to America, where, from a base on Staten Island, he established the “skirmishing fund.” The fund was hugely successful, earning $23, 000 by 1877 and doubling the figure in that year alone.Though there was an alleged attempt on his life by a British Agent in 1885, he lived until 1915, when he died of old age. Aware of the political impact of the funeral of Terence Bellew McManus fifty years earlier and the positive propaganda it would generate, John Devoy and Thomas Clarke conspired with O’Donovan Rossa’s wife, herself an ardent Fenian, to have his body sent home for burial. Almost 100,000 people attended the funeral at which Pearse made his famous ovation.
The Bridge itself was intitially a wooden structure, built in 1682 under the instructions of Lord Mayor of Dublin, Lord Humphrey Jervis. The bridge was a ramshackle effort without even guard railings, and was washed downstream within two years of its creation. It was replaced in 1684 by a masonry bridge named Ormond Bridge which lasted until 1802 when it was swept away in a storm. After eleven years of debate, design and construction, the current bridge was opened, complete with sculptured heads on the keystones. The heads on the keystones represent Plenty, The Liffey herself, Industry, Commerce, Peace and Hibernia. Opened as Richmond Bridge in honour of the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Duke of Richmond. In 1923 it was named after O’Donovan Rossa.
So there you have it. Five bridges, and a lot of history. I may get around to completing the full list of seventeen but trust me, it was hard work gathering the information for what I have here…
Links used for research purposes: