Dublin in the 1670s and 1680s was alive with the sights and sounds of building and rebuilding in what must have been a welcome reprieve for the well heeled citizen and pauper alike. The century thus far had been violent and chaotic. Land, power and political control were wrested from the Irish and paid for in blood spilled in barbaric battle and indiscriminate slaughter.
It was a century in which the crown of England smote the land of Ireland, scattering the Irish Catholic nobility and settling Protestant English and Scottish upon their ancestral lands. It is an historical truth, easily told in words and numbers: defeat for the Irish Earls in 1603, their flight in 1607 and 30,000 colonist landowners and tenants settled by 1640. Catholics lost the right to hold high public office or serve in the army and by 1613 the settlers had gained a majority in the Irish House of Commons. The 1641 Rebellion and the formation of The Irish Catholic Federation ultimately ended in failure as events in England cast a long shadow over Ireland. Charles I was executed in 1649. Cromwell’s ferocious New Model Army landed at Ringsend and by 1653 Ireland was quiet in miserable defeat.
Even as London bathed in the glory of the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, Dublin languished in inglorious neglect. Its population had declined; it was a maze of meandering medieval streets and lanes lined with run down houses, shops and taverns which shook to their swampy foundations as carts rumbled by. The Castle stood stalwart in its corner, the scene of coup and counter coup, but in 1660 once more firmly in the hands of the English crown.
The arrival of James, Duke of Ormonde, friend of Charles, heralded a new beginning for the city. Bridges were planned and built: four in the period 1670 to 1683, The four span, stone Arran Bridge was the last of these, constructed in 1683 by William Ellis. Most importantly, Ormonde decreed that buildings should no longer back onto the River Liffey - conveniently emptying their everyday waste into it - but should face the Liffey. The resulting, more elegant river scape, allowed bridges to be monuments and not merely conveniences. There were more dark days ahead - the Williamite Wars, the defeat of Catholic King James in 1690 and the rise and rise of the Protestant ascendancy. But, as the 18th century dawned, a quiet mood of acceptance had settled over Dublin and its steady expansion continued.
When the Arran Bridge fell to a raging flood in 1763, the importance of a crossing at this point was such that the planning of a new bridge began immediately. Construction began in 1764 and was completed in 1768. Initially named the Queen’s Bridge for the wife of George lll, it later became the Queen Maeve Bridge. It is today the patriotically re-christened and pleasantly familiar, Mellow’s Bridge.