In 1872 the ‘perfect fairy land’ was sold to the young, wealthy and soon to be married Mr. Edward Cecil Guinness. The auctioneer, Mr. McQuestion, was fulsome in his praise: Farmleigh House and Estate occupied a commanding position on the banks of the River Liffey, amid pleasant meadows, shady copses and exotic gardens with vineries, orchid and azalea houses, fish ponds, fountains, grottoes, croquet lawns and cricket grounds.
The house underwent a major refurbishment and building programme between 1881 and 1884, at precisely the time electrically powered light first began to be used in homes and became, no doubt, a ‘must have’ for Guinness, then Ireland’s richest man. The Farmleigh Bridge was part of the necessary infrastructure - the River Liffey providing water and power with pipes and cables carried over the bridge. Use of the bridge was forbidden by estate workers, many of whom lived on the south side of the river.
Lord Iveagh, as he became, was described as ‘an electricity loving peer’, and he and his Parisian raised wife, Adelaide, were famous for their brilliantly lit house and their many sparkling, social occasions - perhaps, on a summer’s night, the guests wandered through the gardens and onto the Farmleigh Bridge to hear the last strains of music waft across the Liffey?
Tragedy on the river prompted a review of the ‘family only’ policy for the bridge. An estate worker, Mr. Joe Williams, drowned one wild, windy night as he awaited the ferry home. From then on the bridge was opened to workers. A Dublin County Council proposal to erect a public bridge near here in 1926 was eventually ruled out on the grounds of cost and the issue of land ownership, and the ferry continued to operate until the 1940s.
The era of the big house with its dazzling society, rarefied privilege and army of invisible workers passed but the Guinness family stayed in residence until the 1990s and then, in 1999, the estate was purchased by the state. Extensive refurbishment took place and now the house and gardens are a much visited place on Dublin’s eclectic cultural circuit.
Today, workers on the Farmleigh Estate arrive by car, bus, bicycle and on foot while tucked away in a verdant corner is a ghostly reminder of times past - the Farmleigh Bridge.