What Might Have Been

The clumsy, clunky Victorian cast iron behemoth that is the Loopline Bridge might not have been if the well laid plans of Wexford born Charles Vignoles had come to fruition. The influential railway engineer recognised early in the planning of the Irish rail network that there would have to be some joining of the routes from the various compass points of the land. 

Before the building of Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station he proposed building an elevated station, just over 7 metres above street level at Barrack Bridge (now Rory O’More). This would be the connecting station for trains to the south and west and also for trains from the Dublin suburbs, Wicklow and Wexford into Westland Row station. From this elevated station a light iron viaduct would travel at a height of about 6 metres along the south quays entering Westmoreland Street at an angle (requiring some property to be demolished). It would then veer around the top of D’Olier Street, cut through some tenements, skirt along Trinity College gardens, cross Westland Row and thus link with the station there.

Mr Vignoles was at pains to stress the ornamental nature of his light iron viaduct: on Dublin’s streets he would marry the might of the Industrial Revolution to the classical aestheticism of Hellenic architecture. The viaduct would rest upon a Grecian style colonnade - columns of the ionic order, like those of the Temple of Apollo. The columns would stand on the footpaths of the south quays until the line neared Carlisle Bridge (now O’Connell). There the columns would grace Anna Liffey herself.

An upstanding citizen, Mr Vignoles worried about the environmental impact of his proposed rail structure. Many of the city quays were still residential in nature.  He wondered that from their ground floor windows, if the residents’ view of the river could even be enhanced by looking through the Grecian columns. From the upper floors, the viaduct would be fifty feet away and only a glimpse of a train might be seen through the ornamental parapet. Noise pollution would not be a problem as the carriages would, along this section, be horse drawn or pulled using a system of endless ropes to be worked by stationary engines at each end of the viaduct.

Mr Vignoles makes no mention of accommodating the citizens of the tenements he proposed to raze but was at pains to point out that the nearby Clarendon Riding School was safe from his developer’s zeal. The cost, allowing for the destruction of 37 houses - though few of any value - would be £150,000,16 shillings and 6 pence. As to those Grecian columns standing in the Liffey - he had a very clever plan: a surbase was to be constructed in the river acting as foundations for the columns. The surbase would also serve as a channel for waste matter then freely flowing into the river and would instead deposit it past Carlisle Bridge. No more would low tide bathe the area in noxious fumes.

It took some time, but in 1863 a temporary wooden bridge was erected in Westmoreland Street and left there for the consideration of the citizens for some months. The idea was rejected. The government minister, Erskine Childers, in the early 1970s muted the idea of painting a mural on the Loopline. A less grandiose scheme but also quietly laid to rest by the good people of Dublin.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 12th September 2013