Friday, October 14, 2016


Never heard of it, but it is really there.

A small oldy worldy bookshop looking out at the Ha'penny Bridge from the north bank of the Liffey.

I had arrived early and was browsing around when I came across this title. Really bring you back (if you were an old man entering his anecdotage). So I put it aside to purchase.

Then I came across this one, which had the same effect on me, and I put that one aside too.

I then paid my €1.50 for these two nostalgic postcards and secreted them inside my jacket.

But I wasn't here to browse. I had come with a purpose: to attend the launch (13/10/2016) of a magnificent new book on the Ha'penny Bridge, whose bicentenary Dublin had celebrated on 19 May last.

The place quickly filled up to overflowing and I scanned the faces for any I might know. I saw only two, which will give you an idea of my literary credentials: Mary Clarke and Eoin Bairéad. I subsequently ran into the City Librarian, Margaret Hayes, and much later, the Beresford descendant, whom I had met at the bicentennial celebration and who was now back with her children for the book launch.

The function was organised by Mary Clarke, City Archivist, not surprising as the book is published by Dublin City Council - Dublin City Library and Archive (though Four Courts Press appear to be in there somewhere). Mary was also MC for the evening.

The night kicked off with a ballad from Tony Fitzpatrick.

Eamon Hunt

This was directly followed by another ballad, Dublin Jack of all Trades.

Seán Ó Hearcáin

And the performance then morphed into a sweet version of the Last Rose of Summer.

Declan Collinge gave us his translation of Faoileán Drochmhúinte by Máirtín Ó Direáin where the poet execrates a seagull who has just dropped its load on him. This catastrophe happens by the Liffey and the poet contrasts the vulgar seagull with the noble swan which would never even think of doing such a thing.

The book was then formally launched by Michael Phillips, former City Engineer. Michael clearly had a great love for his subject and his support in bringing the book to fruition has been acknowledged by its author, Michael English.

It was then Michael English's turn to respond and he thanked a load of people for their help and cooperation along the way. The list was as varied as the content of the book itself.

When I was speaking to him afterwards he mentioned that he thought the bridge's bicentenary would have given rise to a clatter of books on the subject, but nothing appeared. So I figure this is now the definitive work.

Book chapters cover:
  • An introduction from Michael Phillips giving an engineer's perspective of the bridge
  • Coalbrookdale, in England, where the bridge was designed and cast.
  • Distinctly pedestrian: the history of the bridge
  • The bridge under threat from a proposal to replace it with an art gallery for the Hugh Lane collection. There was a design Sir Edwin Lutyens all ready to go.
  • A new lease of life for the bridge with its 2001 restoration.
  • The pint of plain: the story of Guinness and the export of stout passing under the brige in the barges. The pint and the bridge - two icons of Dublin.
  • Cultural awareness reviews the role of the bridge and its connections with various cultural events during its history.
  • Marking the millennium: the Millennium Bridge design inspired by The Ha'penny Bridge.
  • Night into day into night captures various views of the bridge at different times of the day and year. These are largly Michael English's own photos.

And I have to include this cartoon from Gordon Brewster at the height of the controversy over the location of the proposed Municipal Art Gallery to house the Lane pictures. He sarcastically remarks that this location would mean the gallery not obstructing any view of the city. Fortunately the gallery eventually ended up in Lord Charlemont's house in Parnell Square where it will now form the linchpin of the new cultural quarter on the northside.

Whatever about Brewster's drawing ability, this one shows up his shortcomings as an engineer (it would fall down), and a people manager (it would take all day to get people up and down the Pillar's 168 steps). But then that is surely part of the point of this cartoon.

As an aside, it is great to see Brewester's cartoons getting an airing. After almost seven decades in hibernation, they have recently featured in Michael Laffan's Judging WT Cosrave and in the Revolutionary Papers and now another one turns up in The Ha'penny Bridge. And you can now view the full collection of nearly 500 cartoons online.

The book is available from all good bookshops and from Four Courts Press

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