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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

The Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin

Michael English
Dublin City Council
The Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin


From the Introduction by Michael Phillips, Former City Engineer,  Dublin City Council

The building of bridges across urban rivers is an integral part of a city's or town's growth down through the centuries. The pace and number are determined both by the demand from communi­ties living on both sides of the river and also by the economic activity occurring at those periods of time. The replacement of a ferry or ford crossing by a bridge immediately eliminates both the danger of drowning and the fear felt by families while waiting for their 'loved' ones, who have to cross the river, to return home.

The substitution of the Bagnio Slip ferry with the Ha'penny Bridge is an example, which is repeated in modern day society, where a completely new way of achieving something beneficial to the community is only allowed on a temporary basis and with conditions. And so it was that the municipal authority, Dublin Corporation, held power of veto over the bridge. This was possibly due to a fear of the new material proposed - iron - and also the fear that the Corporation might be liable for costs if the new bridge was not successful. However, the promoters of the bridge were confident that it would make money. Their view was formed even with the completion of the original O'Connell Bridge (then Carlisle Bridge) in 1794 downriver of the proposed location which had plenty of space for pedestrians. In addition the citizens of Dublin regularly witnessed the collapse of an arch in the existing bridges as a result of storms and flood surges in the river. In not charging tolls for the initial ten days the developers assisted in overcoming such concerns.

The structure there today forms a critical part of the initial phase of the Industrial Revolution because most metals in use today evolved either from the material or the process used in the Ha'penny Bridge. This is particularly obvious if you stand on the bridge and witness its structure, which is predominantly metal.

The collection of essays in the book tells the story of the bridge both from a construction and a social aspect. This is welcomed because the role the bridge was to play in society at the time becomes very apparent and it brings the story of the bridge to life. We tend to think of bridges and other infrastructure in the context of today's needs and when Dublin City Council decided to refurbish the bridge in 2001 it was because we were aware that the bridge was as relevant in our time as it was when it was built. In fact the Ha'penny bridge is what identifies Dublin in photographs along the river in the city centre. In addition its popularity is highlighted by the fact that it is the only bridge where the practice of fixing 7ove locks' occurs. While this practice can damage parts of the bridge it does give it international recognition and the public are claiming it as their own.

In recent years the public have taken a very active interest in the history of the bridges in Dublin, particularly those over the River Liffey. As a result the City Council created a website www.bridgesofdubIin.ie and published a book Bridges of Dublin to further facilitate and promote the engineering history of Dublin. This book by Michael English, which focuses on a particular favourite bridge of the public, will greatly enhance the information and knowledge available and the Council is delighted to be publishing it.