In the great span of history before the modern era of industrialisation, humble ferries plied their trade upon this stretch of water. From the enigmatically named Bagnio Slip on the south shore, the ferryman heaved upon the oars of his oft overcrowded and betimes doomed ferry, to deliver his motley bunch of passengers to the far side. Then in May 1816 this charming, elliptical arch bridge opened to offer passage via its timber gangway to any Dubliner willing to pay a ha’penny, the exact price of the then redundant ferry and payable to William Walsh, ferry owner and alderman of the city. He retired his leaking ferries and was compensated with £3,000 and the bridge lease for one hundred years.
The first pedestrian bridge to cross the Liffey, it was a welcome relief for Dubliners accustomed to vying with horse, carriage and cart in an era before any demarcation between vehicle and man on the public highways or bridges. It retained its position as the only pedestrian bridge to span the river until the opening of the Millenium Bridge in 1999. World renowned as the Ha’penny Bridge, in reference to that toll, but officially the Liffey Bridge since 1922, it has variously been known as the Wellington, Metal, Triangle or Iron Bridge. The Bagnio Slip, near an infamous brothel, is no more, the crossing now takes pedestrians from Merchant’s Arch to Liffey Street on the north side.
The bridge has a 43 metre span, is 3 metres in width and rises an elegant 3 metres above the river. The superstructure is composed of three arch ribs, each formed in six segments. Seen today in the original off white colour, it has, in the past, been dignified with less complimentary tones - black and silver - and covered in advertising hoardings. Dublin City Council undertook an extensive refurbishment of the bridge in 2001 with engineers and conservationists working together on the award winning restoration.
In that bygone era, when the Ha’penny Bridge first opened, a mere 450 pairs of feet daily walked this way. In a vastly expanded Dublin, today an average of 30,000 people cross each day and would be glad to pay a ha’penny to do so!