Would Dublin’s, nay the world’s, most famous pedestrian, Leopold Bloom, have given the James Joyce Bridge his nod of approval? What if he had taken his Joycean amble, not in jaded Dublin of nearly a century ago, but in today’s youthful, energetic city - crossing the Liffey upstream of Butt and O’Connell Bridges and closer to Dublin’s historic heart?
With his back to Number 15, Usher’s Island, southside home of his friend Stephen Dedalus’ godmother, the fictional Bloom could pause to take in the grand, sweeping view across to Ellis Quay and Blackhall Place on the northside. Stepping out across the bridge, he would approve, no doubt, of its pedestrian promenades. Separated from the noisy, whirring lanes of traffic on both the upstream and downstream sides and giving him a choice of generous curving, pathways of between 3 and 6 metres, each is framed by an overhanging arch, inclined at 20 degrees and, riverside, by a glass parapet.
Resting a while on one of the stone benches and looking upstream, the gaudish Rory O’More Bridge may well have occasioned a deprecatory remark or he may have noted, in idle conversation with the preening Liffey swans, on what a bloomin’ great bridge it was that would let you look down through your feet and into the river below.
What would he have made of the bridge at night, softly illuminated by recessed lighting?
The virtuous Bloom would like that the bridge, being arched, is in the tradition of Liffey Bridges, yet perhaps begrudgingly call its Spanish designer Santiago Calatrava another ‘spawn of a rebel’ for his daring, signature white, steel and concrete, single span structure. The changed city would merit a thought or two - how a bridge was not simply a bridge, but an integral part of a traffic management plan to take traffic away from O’Connell Bridge, improving life for Dublin’s pedestrians and cyclists. His meditation over, surely Bloom would succumb to temptation and turn his back on Blackhall Place and the laadeedaa lawyers up in the old Blue Coat School, recross the James Joyce Bridge on the downstream side and give a nod to venerable, old Mellows Bridge and the cupola of the Gandon’s Four Courts to the east.
Then, throwing the last of his Bunbury cake crumbs to the swooping, diving, cat calling Liffey gulls, he would continue his Dublin odyssey.
Construction of the James Joyce Bridge began in March 2001 and it was opened on Bloomsday, June 16, 2003.