Keepsakes of our industrial and maritime heritage can be glimpsed among the steel and glass constructs of modern living surrounding the Seán O’Casey Bridge. The reflective mind turns to times past.
From the briny pools and slobs of this old-city frontierland a streetscape began to emerge from the turn of the 18th century. Quays were constructed, landfill deposited, businesses emerged, settlers took root and children ran barefoot. The groaning quay walls, the embedded porthole windows, the iron hooks playfully menacing the riverside, the abandoned sheds and the uneven cobbles beneath the foot all speak of that past.
Lives unfolded in the shadows of the cranes and ships - women hawkers shouted their wares, linesmen hauled upon ropes, dray horses snorted, Liffey ferry men pulled hard on the oars of their overcrowded boats and old timers quietly breathed their last in the home for destitute seamen. Music, conversation and the occasional brawl spilled out from the pubs, where wages were paid over and a little something was expected in return.
It was a hard life and for many, work had to be sought out each day. Perhaps a day’s labour was proffered, sometimes an hour and often nothing at all. Living quarters were overcrowded, unsanitary and comfortless. Diseases such as T.B. mercilessly culled the population, already choking on gaswork fumes and the stench from the river. Cargoes arrived - whiskey, sugar, wine, tobacco and coal - and were stored in the warehouses and cavernous cellars lining the riverside. Cargoes departed too - cattle, Guinness, Jacob’s Biscuits and people, seeking something better, anywhere else.
The picture faded as the 20th century wore on and world wars were fought. The cranes ceased to glide along their tracks, the warehouses emptied, the ferry men carried fewer in their now motorised boats, clutches of aproned women ceased to gossip. From the 1930s many moved to the vast estates in new suburbs. Around mid century the age of the truck and the container arrived. Work was even harder to find. Emigrants and cattle alike now departed from the Alexandra Basin.
Regeneration began with the development of the I.F.S.C. on the north bank in the late 1980s. Later, in 1997, Dublin Docklands Authority was established, charged with tackling the economic and social decline acutely visible in the docklands area as a whole. Within a decade the area was transformed. That which was divided - the Liffey, the north-south communities, the past and future - came together with the first footfall on the Seán O’Casey Bridge in July 2005.