In ancient times a bridge had merely to provide strength and function. If burnt in the face of an approaching enemy, it could be swiftly rebuilt in their wake. As mankind’s social and commercial interaction increased, bridges required permanency and a degree of economy in their building.
Aesthetic merit is required of the modern bridge and was, in fact, demanded when, in 1999, Spaniard Santiago Calatrava was appointed to design a statement bridge for the emerging Dublin Docklands hub. Indeed, he submitted two designs. The first was a geometrical interpretation of man straddling the river, his outstretched arms reaching skywards, his head bent as if in homage. The second was an asymmetric design of an Irish Harp lying on its side and presented to the council as a mere sketch. It was instantly recognised as a masterpiece.
Though genesis of the bridge is to be found in the 1997 masterplan for the area, work began in April 2007, following the development of Calatrava’s design concept, through the consideration of the Environmental Impact Statement and onto the appointment of the joint venture contractors, Graham-Hollandia. No detail was too small for consideration. The fates of the elegant swans and the salmon and eels who populate and pass through this stretch of the Liffey’s waters, was considered in depth and protective measures taken.
The commanding steel superstructure with its soaring pylon was made in Rotterdam. Initially it was planned to transport the three individual bridge sections to Dublin for assembly on site. However, a higher quality of workmanship and cost efficiencies were gained by assembly in Rotterdam. Its 628 mile journey to Dublin in May 2009 was eagerly followed worldwide. Hour by hour social media updates relayed the progress of the barge, with its most striking cargo, across the Channel, around Land’s End, along the east coast of Ireland and finally into Dublin Bay. Safely delivered home, work continued apace on the bridge and it opened to the public, ahead of schedule, on December 10th 2009.
The Samuel Beckett Bridge was co-funded by Dublin City Council, the Dublin Docklands Authority and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Culture. The cost, including approach road upgrades, was €60 million. The opening ceremony, on December 10th, 2009 was attended by Beckett’s niece and nephew and by Nobel Laureate, the late poet Seamus Heaney.