The Ha'penny Bridge is as much of a landmark to Dublin as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. However, this pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey is not just a tourist attraction. Approximately 30,000 people use it every day to safely cross from Bachelors Walk to Temple Bar.
The Ha’penny Bridge was built in 1816 by William Walsh. Before building the bridge, he operated one of the ferries that plied the Liffey. Users of the new bridge had to pay Walsh a half-penny toll; the same fee as they had been paying him for his ferry service. Soon the bridge became known as the Ha'penny Bridge. Although the bridge has had several official names by now, this is the only name that has really stuck.
The cast iron bridge is 43 metres long and 3.7 metres wide, rising 3 metres above the Liffey. Not a huge bridge by any stretch of the imagination, but nevertheless one greatly loved by locals. However, people weren’t always this enamoured with their Ha’penny Bridge. In the 1950s, ugly advertising was plastered across it and in the 1980s, the bridge’s wooden planks were asphalted and unsightly cast iron light pillars were added to both sides of the bridge as a ‘decoration’. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, for a while the bridge was even bathed in blue light.
Fortunately things changed in 2001 after a study showed that the bridge was used by 27,000 pedestrians a day. In 1816, pre-industrial Dublin boasted a population of only 200,000 people. Built to only handle 450 people a day, the 200-year-old foundations of the bridge had not been designed for that kind of load. The city council was mainly concerned about preserving its historical heritage and the safety of bridge users.
Something had to be done. The bridge closed and was gradually restored over the course of 9 months. A team of experts in Belfast carefully repaired more than 1000 components of the bridge and also restored it to the original white colour. All in all, 85% of the original materials were preserved and only a few weight bearing parts had to be replaced. More space was created at each end of the bridge to allow pedestrians enough room to wait for passing traffic.