River Liffey – St Patrick’s Day route
“A skiff, a crumpled throwaway, Elijah is coming, rode lightly down the Liffey…..” James Joyce, Ulysses
While you are following the St Patrick’s Day route in Dublin, you will no doubt take in some beautiful sights, buildings of note, interesting little shops and areas you wish to further investigate. What you will also pass along your route will be the River Liffey, a river that has played a significant part in Dublin’s life, its culture and its history.
Naming of the river
The Liffey splits into two parts, the north side and into a south side before travelling into Dublin Bay. Until the 18th century the River Liffey was known by another name; that of An Ruirthech, which roughly means fast and strong. It was also occasionally referred to as Anna Liffey which was referred to by James Joyce making the name famous with Dublin’s inhabitants.
The Liffy has changed over the years and become narrower as the city’s slowly expanded and claimed land with which to build. In the 18th century the river was changed to accommodate shipping. The river was trained to accept ships and in the 19th century it saw further development for deep-water berthing.
There are a breath-taking 16 bridges over the River Liffey.
One of the most famous bridges is the Ha’penny Bridge. It was originally a toll bridge and was opened in the 18th century. Although it has been given many names it is more famously known today as the Ha’penny, as it cost half a penny to cross it when it was a working toll bridge.
O’Connell Bridge is in the very centre of the city. The bridge has been widened over the years to cope with the increase in traffic. At one time it was as wide as it was long. The bridge was named after Daniel O’Connell towards the end of the 19th century.
One of the most famous buildings over the River Liffey is a building that was once known as a Food kitchen. It’s near the city centre and was once known by its original title of Soyer’s Food Kitchen. It was opened by Alexis Soyer, a famous chef who was asked to help by the government of the time as a result of the great potato famine. It had left thousands close to starvation. A soup was made that was guaranteed to stave off hunger for at least a day. Bowls of soup were served to hungry men and women with spoons chained to the bowls.
The shoreline of the Liffey has changed considerably over the years. Naturally with the changes made to accommodate buildings and shipping, its changes have largely been determined by human hands.
But it provides a rich history that tells much about the development of Dublin as a bustling cosmopolitan city. It’s played its role alongside every man and woman. This amazing river once saw the first Vikings settle, it saw people go through terrible hardship and watched as it slowly grew into a famous city.
Sadly, the Liffey is as vulnerable to flooding as the rest of the UK. Only recently it burst its banks in January. Strong winds and rain created the necessary ingredients for the river to burst wide open.
Although the River Liffey may not be able to fight the inclement weather we’ve all been suffering with, it’s survived many changes over the years, and we can only hope that it will still be with us in another 100 years.
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