Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge is one of the symbols of the city. When opened on 19 May, 1816, it was the first dedicated footbridge over the river Liffey and also the first iron bridge in Ireland. Now used by more than 30,000 pedestrians daily, it is synonymous with the city. HARRY WARREN takes a walk through the history of this famous landmark.
I enjoy strolling along Dublin’s River Liffey, passing some its twenty-one bridges and like many Dubliners, my favourite one is the off-white painted Ha’penny Bridge, a metal pedestrian bridge. It has an interesting history and its story should be told.
Prior to the construction of the bridge, Dubliners crossed the river Liffey aboard seven dilapidated ferries owned by Alderman William Walsh. The ferries leaked water and before a tragedy ensued Walsh was told that he had two choices, repair the ferries or build a new bridge. Walsh chose the latter option.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, John Claudius Beresford, then commissioned the bridges construction. It was cast at the Coalbrookdale, Shropshire works of Abraham Darby III in England. John Windsor, a foreman at the Coalbrookdale foundry, is credited with overseeing the design.
The bridge spans 43 metres, is 3 metres wide and rises a graceful 3 metres over the river. Opened in May 1816 it was the first bridge made for ‘foot passengers’ or in today’s parlance ‘pedestrians’, for crossing the river Liffey
Walsh was granted the right to collect a ha’penny toll on anyone crossing the bridge for 99 years. The toll charge was based on the old ferry charges, not on the construction costs. Halfpennies today seem small, but back then an average labourer earned only a meagre sixpence a day.
The bridge became a substantial profit earner for Walsh yielding a yearly average of £329 pounds and 3 shillings income per annum. A smart business man, Walsh also received an additional £3,000 for ending his ferry service.
Always on the lookout for a bargain, canny Dubliner’s attempted to bring their horses across the bridge for free arguing that horses could not be considered ‘foot passengers’ and therefore no fee should be charged. To prevent them from bringing their horses across, obstacles were placed upon the bridge blocking their way.
In the early days of the bridge, Dublin was home to 200,000 people and only 450 of them walked across it every day; today more than 30,000 people cross it daily.
The bridge was originally named (though never officially) after the first duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) the ‘Iron Duke’, the Dublin-born victor of the Battle of Waterloo against Napolean. The Freemans Journal of the day gushingly reported: – “Wellington Testimonial – A Testimonial to the Hero of the British army has at last being erected – a Testimonial at once credited to the name with which is to be honoured greatly ornamental to the City of Dublin and eminently useful to her inhabitants. We allude to the Arch of Cast Iron thrown over our river, and furthermore, with the express permission of the Illustrious Duke, is the be called Wellington Bridge.”
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own