From Grattan Bridge glance south and atop the gentle rise of Parliament Street the 18th century portico and copper dome of City Hall catches the eye and to the north is the busy urbanscape of Capel Street, originally laid out in the 17th century.
The first bridge here, Essex Bridge built in 1676 by developer Humphrey Jervis, was Dublin’s third bridge and its most easterly - joining the pleasing grandeur of Capel Street, resplendent with fashionable Dutch style mansions, to the rambling medieval streets and lanes of the city’s south side. From its narrow, humped back, Dubliners could watch as ships in full sail cast anchor by the bridge and unloaded their exotic cargoes to be weighed and measured at the old custom house. In 1722 an equestrian statue of King George I, the English King who didn’t actually speak English, was erected on a pier built on the upstream side of the bridge.
Jervis’ Essex Bridge needed constant repair, the foundations having been built directly onto the riverbed and the Liffey being much inclined to floods and rapids. In addition, tangles of horses, carts and carriage traffic were an everyday occurrence at the south side bridge end and its higgledy maze of streets. George Semple, architect and engineer, advised on the need for a new bridge, convinced the city fathers of the necessity for a new street on the south side and that bridge and street width should be similar. Semple’s new Essex Bridge, modelled on Westminster Bridge, opened in 1755 and Parliament Street in 1757.
The bridge was rebuilt and widened under the direction of Bindon Stoney, the Port engineer and opened in 1874. However, newspaper reports suggest it was open to traffic in 1874, months before the official opening. The new bridge was built in the style of Semple’s - a masonry bridge with five arches - but flatter to accommodate modern traffic. Stoney retained some of Semple’s foundations, cleverly increased the bridge width by cantilevering footpaths on either side and embellished them with wrought iron parapets, crowned with decorative lamps. And all at a cost of IR£25,380, 7 shillings and 6 pence. It was renamed for parliamentarian Henry Grattan. Further work was undertaken on the bridge in 2002 to halt deterioration of the superstructure and to upgrade the pedestrian walkways, at a cost of €2.3 million.
Offering a most pleasing mix of appearance and proportion, Grattan Bridge is another Liffey treasure.