Whether to wage war, forage for food or to seek solitude in nature, Dublin’s earliest settlers desired to cross from Anna Liffey’s south shore to her verdant northern banks. Dubliners today, crossing Father Mathew Bridge from Church Street to Bridge Street on the south side, also go about their business - shopping, tending friendships over a shared meal and earning a wage.
Yet, in the beginning, there was a mere ford, a shallow crossing for man and beast. Later, fierce Norsemen having battled tempestuous seas to invade and conquer this Liffey site, constructed a timber frame bridge known as Dubhghalls’ Bridge, on which nine warriors were slaughtered while fleeing back to the city from the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
From this point the history of Dublin is peppered with references to a bridge in this place. It seems there were but four structures: that of the Norsemen, King John, the Friars and Whitworth Bridge. And for those bridges, a confusion of names.
In 1180 Lawrence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin, died in far off Normandy from the effects of a fall from the Dublin Bridge. King John’s Bridge received royal assent in 1214 and was likely a stone and timber construction. In 1240 scribes recorded the name Ostman’s Bridge, a living bridge with shops and flanked by a tower, presumably the same King John’s Bridge which was destroyed in 1385. King Richard II granted permission for a new bridge to be paid for by tolls from the ferry which would meantime ply the river. This bridge was finished in 1428. The Bridge of Dublin, also known as Friar’s Bridge, was an ‘inelegant’ bridge, of four unequal stone arches which lasted almost 400 years in various states of repair. To some it was simply the Old Bridge.
From 1818 to the present time Dubliners have used the three elliptical arch, masonry bridge, with elegant balustraded parapets built by George Knowles for the Port of Dublin. Originally named for Charles, Earl Whitworth, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, it was rechristened Dublin Bridge in 1922 and renamed Father Mathew Bridge in 1938. Whatever the name, is a wonderful truism to say that here the heart of Dublin connects with its very soul - its history.