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Friday 16 November 2018

Iconic Ha'penny Bridge turns 200 years old today

Dublin's iconic Ha'penny Bridge today Photo: Caroline Quinn
Dublin's iconic Ha'penny Bridge today Photo: Caroline Quinn
The Ha'penny Bridge in 1929

Alan O'Keeffe

Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge might not have survived for its bicentennial celebration today but for a stroke of luck.

The 200th anniversary of the city's iconic landmark today would not be taking place today if the 1916 Rising had not happened.

The cast iron bridge was considered ugly by some members of Dublin City Council a century ago when control of the bridge was due to be handed over to Dublin Corporation.

The idea of demolishing the bridge was growing prior to 1916, according to historian Pat Liddy.

Mr Liddy, who conducts walking tours of the capital, said any notions to demolish the bridge evaporated as the council's attentions were diverted by "the destruction of the heart of the city in the 1916 Rising".

Today, it is a beautiful bridge thanks to the actions of the council in 2001 in lavishing more than €1m on a complete refurbishment. It is Dublin's most iconic bridge and has come to symbolise the capital city over the years.

The Ha'penny Bridge was never the official name of the bridge. It was built in 1816 to replace a ferry.

The toll for using the bridge was a half-penny. The money went to William Walsh, the owner of the 'leaky ferries' that the bridge replaced. He was an alderman of the city and he received £3,000 compensation for the elimination of his ferry service.

He was granted a lease on the bridge for 100 years and he charged pedestrians the same price of half a penny that they used to pay for their ferry trip.

Mr Liddy said a series of obstacles were placed on the bridge to stop the practice of Dubliners bringing their horses across. Wiley Dubs claimed their horses were exempt from any charges as "they weren't pedestrians".

An average of only 450 people a day used the toll bridge in its early years compared to 30,000 people a day who use it now.

The bridge bore the name of Wellington Bridge, in honour of the Irish-born Duke's defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo a year before it was built. But it was always known to Dubliners and to people far and wide as the Ha'penny Bridge.

In 1913, a proposal by Hugh Lane to replace the bridge with an art gallery spanning the Liffey received considerable support but nothing came of it.

Control of the bridge was handed over to Dublin Corporation in 1916 and tolls were eventually eliminated in 1919.

Indeed, during the Easter Rising, a volunteer called Thomas Harris recalled how a toll man had tried to charge volunteers attempting to cross the Ha'penny bridge.

"We were issued with two canister bombs... We went down Liffey Street out on the Quays and across the Halfpenny Bridge. The toll man demanded a halfpenny!"

He went on to add that they did not pay.

The bridge was officially renamed the Liffey Bridge in 1922 as the Free State began to divest itself of colonial names.

But Dubliners continued to call it the Ha'penny Bridge.

Irish Independent

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