Turtle Bunbury

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'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageis a work in progress, commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and due to be completed in the autumn of 2008. The following tale represents research I have undertaken for the project which may or may not be used in the final book.

Carlisle Bridge

Connection: O’Connell Street Lower to Westmoreland Street and D'Olier Street.

Commissioner: Wide Street Commissioners.

Designer: James Gandon.

Completed: 1795.

Demolished: 1880.

Spanning the very same stretch of the Liffey as the O'Connell Bridge today, Carlisle Bridge was built by James Gandon and enjoyed a controversial lifespan of 85 years.

During the mid-18th century, a broadsheet war was waged in the City of Dublin between the developers of the north east sector and the established merchants. The developers wanted to shift the centre of business downstream and build a new river crossing east of Essex Bridge. The merchants, who held a majority on the Assembly, vehemently opposed he concept and insisted business remain as close to the Exchequer as possible. Many of these merchants had expended ‘great sums of money in erecting buildings’ in the middle and westwards of the city; these buildings would lose considerable value if the centre of business moved east. Hand in hand with plans for a new bridge were the calls for a new Custom House. The merchants managed to stave off the inevitable until 1784 when James Gandon was commissioned to design a new bridge east of Essex Bridge ‘to commemorate the achievements of the Army and Navy during the reign of George III’. [1] His original designs were rejected but in 1791 work commenced on a new three-span masonry arched bridge, with the foundation stone laid in March 1791 by John Beresford, first commissioner of revenue, and one of the Wide Street Commissioners. The new bridge was to be called Carlisle Bridge in honour of Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, lord lieutenant from 1780 to 1782. The design, with a carriageway 13 metres wide, was based on circular arches. Its keystones heads were sculptured by Edward Smyth, echoing his work at the Custom House. Pedestrian access commenced in 1792 and it opened for carriage traffic in 1795.

Carlisle Bridge was effectively commissioned, built and paid for by the Wide Street Commissioners. The newly former Ballast Board had little or no say in the matter. The Board disapproved of the new bridge and actively encouraged sea-going mariners to carry on as normal during its construction, offering tax exemption to any vessels that managed to unload their cargos west of the new bridge. The bridge was not a success. The obelisks that adorned its four corners were removed on account of the ‘obliquity’ of the bridge with relation to Westmoreland Street. By 1818, the Ballast Board had secured control of Gandon's bridge which was already in increasingly urgent need of considerable repair. Ironically, given the essence of the Wide Street Commissioners, the 13 metre carriageway was far too narrow to cater to the seven streets approaching it.

In 1837, a committee of Dublin merchants wrote to the Ballast Board expressing their immense dissatisfaction with Carlisle Bridge, the Gandon-designed carriageway built across the Liffey in the early 1790s. In 1838, George Halpin examined the bridge for the Ballast Board and noted that the foundations were extremely shoddy and had settled unevenly, which left the bridge’s crown was dangerously high, particularly on the northern ascent. Plans to widen the bridge were opposed by Halpin who proposed a new stone bridge as the best solution. By 1852, that venerable classicist the 2nd Earl of Charlemont was describing Carlisle Bridge as ‘the most dangerous [bridge] in Europe’. As it happened, the Earl was chairman of a committee campaigning to have another bridge built to the east. In 1877, a new bridge finally commenced under the Port and Docks Board engineer Bindon Stoney and contractor William Doherty. When the new bridge was completed in May 1880, Gandon’s original Carlisle Bridge was demolished. Smyth’s keystones were re-erecetd at the Tropical Fruit Company on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. The old balustrades were removed to Doherty’s residence at Clonturk House. The Port and Docks Board incised the name ‘Carlisle Bridge’ on the parapets of the new bridge. However, Dublin Corporation quickly took the initiative and covered these inscriptions with bronze plaques renaming the bridge for Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. It was after all O’Connell whose towering monument by John Henry Foley now gazed across the river from Sackville Street to Westmoreland Row.

[1] Gandon’s initial concept was a triumphal bridge of two spans, with colonnaded footpaths to compliment the colonnades proposed for Westmoreland Street. This would have made for a magnificent stroll from the House of Parliament to Sackville Street. It was rejected on the grounds of expense.




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