What's in a name?
Thomas J Clarke’s name was the first on the 1916 Proclamation, but he was the last of the rebel leaders to get a permanent memorial in Dublin in his honour. On May 3rd 2016, the centenary of Clarke’s execution for his part in the Rising, President Michael D Higgins unveiled a plaque renaming the bridge. Clarke had “rightfully been described as one of the key architects of the Easter Rising,” the President said, while his wife Kathleen was “symbolic of those widows who, while suffering great loss, turned their efforts into providing relief for others and continuing a struggle for equality”.
Tom Clarke Bridge now rises and falls daily to dutifully grant maritime access to the river and the many bridges beyond.
East-Link was a name devoid of charm or romance. It seems simply a functional name for a functional structure. Yet something can be made of it - with a little thought and time it too can resonate with a some meaning.
Lying east of the city and providing an inner relief route for north-south traffic, the bridge was built at a time when its sister bridge, the West-Link, and the outer orbital M50 route were a mere pipe dream. Dublin was a somewhat sleepy city, undersold to the world, struggling to rid itself of recession and austerity. Its economists, engineers and architects had yet to conspire to showcase the city as they were later to do on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The East-Link was an early, tentative step towards that new understanding of growing the city by linking the private entrepreneur with the public needs and fostering confidence through public structures. Such arrangements were not unknown in previous times and this change was timely.
In previous centuries the route along this stretch of the Liffey had run along an east-west axis. The narrow, sand clogged shipping channels of the Liffey forced heavily laden sailing ships to discharge their passengers and cargoes at Ringsend. Ferries duly undertook the final, upstream part of the journey. Through this stretch of water Dublin was provided with many of the necessities for busy urban living.
Cromwell’s landed his tens of thousands of troops here and ferried them onwards to wreak their havoc on the country. Flotilla’s of gaily coloured vessels sailed past to accompany Dean Swift on his triumphant entry into Dublin, celebrating the success of Drapier’s Letters. Famine ships sailed out with their ravaged human cargo for whom hope was the only nourishment. Robert Emmet stole into the city in a rowing boat hired at the Pigeon House Harbour where he had landed from France. It was 1802, and for his failed rebellion he paid with his life. The guns of Easter 1916 sailed by this point, the British gunship crews scanning the quaysides for that first sight of Liberty Hall and the rebels within.