In the green oasis of Dublin’s Liffey Valley, Farmleigh Bridge crosses the river as she glistens and sparkles on her leisurely, curving journey to the city, mere kilometres away. From the south side fields of Waterstown the bridge stretches across the river in a single ironclad span of roughly 52 metres to the urban paradise of the Farmleigh Estate in the north west corner of the Phoenix Park. Once a ford existed here, last recorded in 1773, and all around are remnants of yesteryear - wild flowers, overgrown cottage gardens and tumbled down walls.
The bridge, also known as the Guinness Bridge, the Strawberry Beds Bridge and the Silver Bridge, is a monument to Victorian industry and inventiveness. It was built sometime between 1872, when Farmleigh House was purchased by Edward Cecil Guinness, and 1890, from when the first known image of the bridge exists.
Most likely constructed by the Engineering Department of the Guinness Brewery and at roughly the same time as the water and clock tower at Farmleigh House (1880), the purpose of the bridge was to carry water pipes and lines from the power station on the south bank of the river to the tower. Not content with Victorian functionality, the bridge was given a decorative elegance and a fairy tale mystique by the addition of gates at either end. Viewed from the road it is the bridge to nowhere on one side and disappears intriguingly through a tower like, carved stone portal on the other. Beneath, swans glide silently by and one can almost hear the echo of times past when the Guinness children may have danced across its wooden deck to picnic by the river below.
In reality, the gates personified the social and class barriers which underpinned the workings of Victorian society - the bridge was for the exclusive use of the family and their guests. Leaving their cottage homes in Palmerstown each day kitchen staff, farm workers, gardeners and maids threaded across the Waterstown fields and crossed the Liffey by the ferry which operated until the 1940s.
Today, its character wrought by the ravages of time and nature, various bodies, at national and local level, are working towards restoration so that one day noisy children may once more run across the intriguing piece of river heritage that is the Farmleigh Bridge.