A View from Arran Bridge (1684)

Dublin yawned and stretched out of a long slump when Charles II was restored to the crown of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1660. There began a flurry of civic and private building championed by James, Duke of Ormonde and led by land speculators and developers, such as William Ellis, builder of the Arran Bridge of 1683. Ormonde himself was said to be building a house on Oxmantown Green.

Stand upon the Arran Bridge with a fresh westerly blowing - bracing, clean air which is still unsullied by the stench of the city. Before you, Anna Liffey sweeps gently eastwards, not yet tamed by man in all places where she and the city kiss. It is low tide and sand and seashells glisten amongst the ooze of the bared shores. You spy movement beyond the Old Bridge -  the loading and unloading of ships: coal, hogsheads of French claret, gunpowder. Oars purposefully splicing the water, gabbards move through quieter waters towards you. Soon it will be possible to use the Arran Quay, where work is progressing well. Your eyes rest, momentarily, on the hill. The recent fire in the Castle has burned a hole in the heart of the city. Still, they say, that will lead to even better things. ‘Tis time for the city to break free of its medieval shackles.

Traversing the bridge you catch a glimpse of the comings and goings at the Blue Coat School in Queen’s Street - for the poor children and the maimed. A cart rumbles by, easily gaining the crest of the bridge, its load of roots, mutton or flowers sold, its driver grateful to escape the congestion of the Old Bridge. A drum beats steadily calling soldiers to drill on Oxmantown Green. Two cross the bridge hurriedly, fearful of the sergeant’s tongue. After drill they will run back across the bridge to the unfortunate families who billet them.  Is it likely the Duke will get around to building a barracks for the soldiers?

A raft of the best Norwegian fir sails by. The oarsman carefully manoeuvres up to the Gravel Slip and the pipeworks. The city has an ever increasing demand for water and the wooden pipes. Dusk creeps in, the masonry turns ghostly in the half light. The smell of the of the night envelopes the bridge: the fires of the richman burn coal and the poor man burns anything - dung, furze, a bit of wood if he can get it. Then beggars, palmists, jugglers, fencers and Dublin Egyptians parade by - the bridge the last witness to their day of toil in the walled city.

Now it is best to leave the Arran Bridge. There is little light to be had on a moonless night and plenty of pitfalls for the honest man.

The demise of the Arran Bridge came in 1763 when a raft of timber, swept downstream by a flood,  lodged across the middle arch of the bridge. The piers, which were simply resting on the river bed, came under increasing pressure from the altered currents. Within the space of seconds, and to the astonishment of a lone rider who had crossed only moments before, the bridge completely surrendered to the forces of the swollen river.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 25th August 2013