Much of the beauty of O’Connell Bridge is in the detail - the sandstone balustrades, the pretty garlands embellishing the piers, the charming Parisian lamp standards and the stone steps to the river quaintly tucked away on the westerly quay walls.
Crossing the River Liffey in the very centre of Dublin, the first structure here, Gandon’s Carlisle Bridge, opened in 1794 and the thoroughfare across the bridge and up along the grand, continental sweep of Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) was the most fashionable route in the city. Later, Westmoreland and D’Olier Streets were laid out completing the pleasant vista from the bridge to the Houses of Parliament and Trinity College on the south side. Business and commercial life moved too and where once, the lifeblood of the city had flowed from the medieval quarter and its surrounds, now it pulsed across this new, most easterly bridge.
However, by the mid 19th century the bridge was a tottering edifice, shaken to its foundations by ever increasing traffic and in desperate need of replacement. Dublin Port and Docks Board engineer Bindon Blood Stoney and contractor William Doherty moved on site in the summer of 1877. Stoney’s design mimics the Carlisle Bridge of old yet improving upon that narrow, hump backed structure by being almost three times as wide and having a lower gradient. While retaining Gandon’s three arches, Stoney replaced the semi circular with the semi elliptical. Like Gandon he chose Portland stone and granite as building materials for his eminently classical design.
Cleverly, Stoney first had new bridge strips built on either side of Carlisle Bridge, which remained opened to traffic. When the new sections opened, the old bridge was demolished and replaced with what is today, the centre part of O’Connell Bridge. The bridge opened in 1880, costing just over £70,000 and named for the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell. New keystones were designed by Charles V. Harrison to represent Anna Liffey looking westwards and the Atlantic gazing towards the open sea.
Today, as in times past, and no matter that many other bridges now adorn the River Liffey, O’Connell Bridge is still at the very hearts of the city and its people.