Dublin could boast of only one newly sited bridge for road traffic in the 19th century, King’s Bridge, until 1876 when the British empire’s second city was granted a much needed easterly bridge. Bindon Blood Stoney, a quintessential Victorian style gentleman and chief engineer, of Dublin Port and Docks Board, was appointed designer.

His design was of fixed masonry approach spans of just over 11.28 metres long and a central, rotating, cast iron span of 38 metres. The swivel motion was powered by a fifteen horse power steam engine, each quarter movement marked by the peal of a bell. Should the steam engine fail, a windlass, for operation by two men, was on standby. When open, two shipping channels of 12 metres each, allowed access upstream. The bridge opened on 26th August 1879. Traffic volumes were impressive. In a two week period in the November following its opening, over 75,000 pedestrians, 2,200 cattle, 384 equestrians and 38,000 carriages and drays were recorded as having crossed.

Image of Butt Bridge - History

A view of the first Butt Bridge with swivel span (c.1890)

© Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The swivel section was decommissioned in 1888, Stoney calculating that its annual running cost of £72 was not being met by shipping dues for the upstream berths around O’Connell Bridge. The carriageway, being a mere 5.6 metres wide, proved inadequate for the city’s need and there was renewed agitation for its replacement or alteration. In 1925 Dublin Port and Docks Board lodged a bill for its reconstruction. The old bridge was closed on December 1, 1930 and the work of cutting the ironwork into sections and lowering it onto barges began.

A temporary bridge for road traffic was deemed too problematic but pedestrians were accommodated with a crossing made of light steel girders, supported on the piers of the Loopline and resting on four timber trestles in the middle of the river. Metal was deemed an unsuitable material for the reconstructed bridge, especially considering the effect the Loopline Bridge had on views of Gandon’s Custom House. Economic times being harsh, cut stone was too expensive, at a point in the river twice that of its width at O’Connell Bridge. Thus it became the first Liffey bridge to be built of reinforced concrete. It was opened in June 1932.