The ‘new bridge of Chappellizard, we find sufficiently done’, stated the report of a special commission enquiring into the work of the building contractor, Mr. William Dodson. The bridge, along with the enclosure of the Phoenix Park and the refurbishment of the big house in Chapelizod, were pet projects of the Lord Lieutenant, James, Duke of Ormonde. He had no sooner taken up office, in 1662, when the estimate for the bridge was presented to him. The cost of 195 guineas, 1 shilling and 7 pennies, he decided in 1668 was ‘well expended’.
Dodson’s ‘new’ bridge replaced an older one from around 1350, though whether this was a stone or timber structure is unknown. It is known that Dublin, with the Duke as its champion, was undergoing a revival and Chapelizod, a country hamlet nestling in a scenic valley, shared in the city’s good fortunes. Chapelizod offered Ormonde more luxurious living quarters than Dublin Castle, with deer hunting in the Phoenix Park on his doorstep and the Liffey flowing by, cleanly and serenely. From the reign of Ormonde onwards, the history of the bridge, soon after known as Chapelizod Bridge, seems intimately linked with that of the big house, which became known as the King’s House from 1690 when King William of Orange stayed there while returning triumphant from the Battle of the Boyne.
However by the mid 1700s, house and bridge were sadly neglected as the viceroys returned to the refurbished Dublin Castle. A rebuild of the bridge appears to have taken place in 1753, yet in 1792, a visitor wrote that the parapet wall was ‘still extremely unsafe’ and barely sufficient in height to protect the bridge user from a fall into the waters below, as one unfortunate young man did, when he sat on the battlement to rest. It was, by all accounts, a local sport to throw the capping stones into the river.
This dilapidated bridge was rebuilt sometime before 1851 when the ‘skew end of the old bridge’ was still visible in the river. A drawing by Samuel Lover, depicts it in good condition and holding a great crowd of people observing divers searching for the weapon used by the Invincibles in the Phoenix Park murders of 1882.
Modern record keeping allows us to follow the 20th and 21st century history of Chapelizod Bridge more closely. Dublin Corporation undertook a major grouting project on the bridge in the 1980s and further strengthened and refurbished it in 1991. That the bridge is a patchwork of 18th and 19th century construction was confirmed by a report of 1991, which noted the north side arches to be different and inferior to those closest to the south side.
The final chapter in this long history saw the addition of cantilever footpaths in 2011. What Mr. Dodson would have made of the now most eclectic Chapelizod Bridge we will never know!