Island Bridge connects the South Circular Road to Conyngham Road on the north bank of the river. Elegantly resting on a base of hewn mountain granite, the piers, cornice and balustrades of Island Bridge are of Portland stone. Its single and eye pleasing elliptical arch is crowned with an ornamental iron railing set firmly in a plinth.
When opened to the public in 1792, construction having begun in 1791, it was known as Sarah Bridge, for Sarah Fane, Countess of Westmorland. At once it became a favourite spot for professional artists and enthusiastic sketchers and was favourably compared with Venice’s Rialto Bridge. Designed by architect, engineer and mason Alexander Stevens in a bold departure from his usual style, it was originally graced with tall lamp standards, one on each of the four piers and others scattered on either sides along its length.
Sarah Bridge replaced Sidney’s Bridge or Island Bridge, which had replaced an earlier stone structure swept away in 1545, which in turn had replaced a possible earlier stone bridge or a simple, utilitarian ford in the river. For some time following the opening of Sarah Bridge, the old bridge, built in 1577, was visible and almost within reach upstream - a ghostly yet still elegant stone structure, but in a ruinous state. Perhaps left there as a harsh reminder to those who noisily criticised the expenditure on the new bridge, it was taken down in 1793.
The critics did have some substance to their grumbles. Sarah Bridge was financed by the Corporation for Paving and Lighting of Dublin, with funding directly from Parliament and from taxes. Having suffered and paid for the embarrassment of a false start under an indifferent and most likely corrupt builder, it was necessary to borrow to complete the bridge and by the turn of the 19th century a debt of £12,000 was still owed. Sarah Bridge, at 38 metres in length, was the longest span masonry arch bridge in Ireland until Lucan Bridge opened some years later.
Although damaged by a flood in 1813, the bridge has withstood the test of time. In 1922, as the newly independent Irish Free State shook off its centuries long colonial shackles, it decried too the romance and intrigue of the name Sarah and this bridge, once again, became Island Bridge.