Posts Tagged ‘o’connell bridge’

There’s not much left by the way of pre-boom buildings on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Row upon row of mis-matched shining steel and glass structures tower over the few remaining Victorian warehouses and enginehouses, relics of an era when Dublin’s docks bustled with industry. One warehouse that has managed to survive, a double gabled redbrick building that sits where the Samuel Beckett bridge meets the Southside boasts two unusual and very original features.

The warehouse at 30- 32 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay was built in the 1890’s and was once home to the Dublin Tropical Fruit Company, who occupied the premises for decades. It has played host to plenty of drama in its lifetime; in the mid-thirties, a young teenager fell to his death from the roof, the sixties saw a long running strike on the premises and the eighties saw a fire come close to gutting the building. On 16th April 1950, a ship named the Abraham Lincoln arrived into Dublin bearing tonnes of bananas bound for the warehouse. When the ship made port, it was discovered that its cargo of fruit was already too ripe for sale, leading the company to refuse it and the ship’s crew to dump tonnes of black skinned bananas overboard. Alexandra basin was lined with scores of people waiting for the chance to grab any that might float ashore, whilst rowboats set out from Ringsend with the aim of getting to the booty first. Gardaí struggled to maintain order as hundreds of children tried to force entry into the basin. (Irish Press, 17/4/1950.) The building later housed offices belonging to U2 and is now home to a software company.


Representation of Anna Livia, photo credit- Simon Conway

Anyway, to the point of the piece. Over the doors of the building, hang two recognisable figures- two granite keystones representing Anna Livia and the Atlantic, replicas of which appear elsewhere along the River Liffey. Originally sculpted by the eminent (though self-effacing as some records state!) Edward Smyth, they had once adorned the archways of Carlisle Bridge, the structure that predated what we now know as O’Connell Bridge. The bridge was remodeled in the late 1870’s and the granite keystones were removed- Carlisle Bridge having had three arches with a hump rising high above the water below, Anna Livia and Atlantic were deemed too large to fit the lower elliptical arches of the bridge. The new bridge had arches which sat much lower over the water, and the keystones would need to be replaced. They were remodeled by Charles W. Harrison and the originals sculpted by Edward Smyth somehow ended up on the facade of the warehouse on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.


Representation of The Atlantic, photo credit- Simon Conway

Smyth (1749- 1812) was a sculptor and modeler who served an apprenticeship under Simon Vierpyl (Clerk of Works  for the Casino building in Marino) and later worked for a Dublin stone cutter named Henry Darley. His work was mainly ornamental, according to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, that is until Darley recommended him to one of the leading architects working in Ireland at the time, none other than James Gandon in the early 1780’s. James Gandon being one of the most sought after architects of the time, Smyth rose to prominence under his patronage and went on to sculpt some of the most recognisable features on some of Dublin’s most famous buildings. From humble beginnings he was to become a wealthy man.

The building at Sir John Rogerson's Quay, photo credit- Simon Conway

The building at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, photo credit- Simon Conway

Looking out over College Green from the roof of the Old Parliament, stand his figures of Justice, Wisdom and Liberty. His works are dotted around the Custom House; the 14 keystones representing 14 Irish rivers on the building are his, along with the Arms of Ireland- a Lion and a Unicorn standing either side of the Irish Harp. He was also responsible for work on a number of churches throughout Dublin, ornaments, statues and coats of arms at Kings Inns and you can add his name to the debate on something we’ve looked at before- who sculpted the anthropomorphic figures playing billiards and other parlour games on the windows of The Kildare Street Club? In her “This Ireland” column in the Irish Times in March 1975, Elgy Gillespie noted that it wasn’t until the 1950’s that discovery of Smyth’s keystones on the building at Sir Rogerson’s Quay was made, quoting Harold Leask (architect responsible in part for the reconstrucion of the GPO) in the Royal Society of Antiquaries Journal on their discovery. That column, and anything I’ve read on the subject, neglects to mention how the heads managed to make their way from Carlisle Bridge and onto the facade of a building on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Another reason why, when walking around this city, you should keep your head up because who knows what you might find!

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Jumping into the River Liffey has been a dangerous pastime for Dubliners for centuries. Some do it for kicks, others for bets and others just to cool down during hot summer days. A quick scan of The Irish Times archive showcases the long running (and often deadly) activity.

An Irish Times article from March 1890 relates the story of a Miss Marie Finny, “a professional swimmer” who was arrested just before she attempted to jump into the river off O’Connell Bridge. [1]

In 1909, a hotel porter called Hugh Bernard McGrath was rescued from the Liffey after he got into difficulty swimming after jumping from the eastern parapet of O’Connell Bridge. [2]

A “strange affair” was reported in 1932 which concerned an “unknown man” who was seen swimming in the liffey late one Monday evening. It was reported did not “take any notice” of two life buoys that were thrown towards him or a boat that passed. He soon got into difficulty and drowned. [3]

In 1939, a soldier named James Donlan (25) “disappeared” while swimming in the Liffey. It took a extensive search operation to find his body. [4]

The body of Michael Kinsella, 35, a labourer in the Guinness brewery was found in the Liffey in 1954. It was believed that he entered the river “to settle a wager”. [5]

There were also cases of young men drowning in the Liffey in August 1968, January 1977 and December 1986.

In 1994, a Scottish tourist drowned after trying to swim across the Liffey in the early hours of Saturday morning. [6]

As you can see from the youtube clips below, jumping into the Liffey is as popular as ever. (Come Here To Me! does not reccomend it.)

1. Anon, Attempt to jump from O’Connell Bridge into the Liffey, The Irish Times Saturday, March 29, 1890
2. Anon, Rescue from the Liffey, The Irish Times, Saturday, July 10, 1909
3. Anon, Man Drowned In The Liffey, The Irish Times, Tuesday, January 19, 1932
4. Anon, Soldier Drowned In The Liffey, The Irish Times, Friday, August 18, 1939
5. Anon, Swimmers Body Taken From Liffey, The Irish Times, Monday, November 15, 1954
6. Anon, Tourist Dies Trying To Swim Liffey, The Irish Times, Monday, May 30, 1994

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Another gem from the British Pathe website showing a Dublin unemployed march from the mid 1950s.

When I first watched the clip, I nearly fell off my chair as the first seconds show something that resembles the Spire in the background. Any idea what it is?

It quickly cuts to a man holding the Starry Plough walking past the GPO who is followed by hundreds of men doing a U – turn at the bottom of O’Connell St. by the bridge and marching back up the other side of the road.

At 18seconds in, the leader of the ‘Dublin Unemployment Association’, Thomas Pearle claps his hand and starts a sit down protest “halting all traffic for half an hour”

One placard reads ‘Get off your knees – March with us’, presumably a reference to the famous labour slogan, “The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise” which has been accredited to many people including James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Max Stirner.

The scene at 31 seconds is quite amazing with both side of O’Connell St. and the bridge blocked. Though it looks like there’s more people observing the demo than there is sitting down!

Jubilant scenes follow when the news is spread that the march will make its way down to the Dail, “the first time such a protest has been held at its gates”.

Dozens of men were charged and fined for causing obstructions by their sit-down protest.

Court told 'wide issues involved', The Irish Times, Saturday, July 11, 1953

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