Saturday 7 August 2010

From the Archives - 7 August 1880

One hundred and thirty years ago today, the main bridge over the Liffey was renamed O'Connell Bridge in honour of Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator.

The then Lord Mayor of Dublin, attended by twenty officials from the Dublin Corporation, performed the naming ceremony by smashing a bottle of champagne.

The Irish Times reported his formal speech in which he declared that the Corporation was 'naming the finest bridge in the city after the greatest of Irishmen.'

The event was not without controversy.

The bridge, built in the early 1790s by James Gandon (of Custom House fame), had originally been named Carlisle Bridge to honour the Earl of Carlisle, the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

It was a narrow bridge, with a distinct hump, and no longer suitable for late 19th-century Dublin's volume of traffic (see photo, taken c1870).

Three years of reconstruction had removed the hump and widened the bridge, preparing it to become the city's major north-south thoroughfare.

The trouble was that the works had been carried out by the Ports and Docks Board which wanted to retain the original name and didn't take kindly to the Corporation muscling in and renaming it.

The Corporation, however, had the right, confirmed by Act of Parliament, to give whatever names it chose to all public thoroughfares.

Even after the deed had been done, the controversy rumbled on. The Irish Times reported continuing arguments some four months later (31st December 1880) between the two organisations about the size of the lettering on the commemmorative plaque!

The row eventually died down, of course, and two years and one week after the official renaming ceremony, Daniel O'Connell's statue was unveiled to look over the bridge from what was then called Sackville Street.

It was another forty years before Sackville Street was renamed O'Connell Street.

FACT: O'Connell Bridge is 45m long over the Liffey, and 50m wide.