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Carlisle Bridge opened in 1794. Business and commercial life moved from the medieval quarter and its surrounds, now it pulsed across this new, most easterly bridge. However, by the mid 19th century the bridge was shaken to its foundations by ever increasing traffic and in desperate need of replacement. In the summer of 1877 work began. The new bridge opened in 1880, costing just over 70,000 pounds and named for the Liberator, Daniel O'Connell.
Daniel O'Connell was a political activist, a lawyer, Lord Mayor of Dublin and a family man. He was born in County Kerry in 1775, he was taken under the wing of his wealthy uncle and attended exclusive schools in France. He studies law in London and Dublin, and formed his radical political ideas.
His aim was the achievement of equal rights for Irish Catholics - the underclass in their own country. O'Connell's political movements were peaceful, persuasive resistance and brilliant organisation. He was handsome and a fine speaker. He could command a crowd of hundreds of thousands and fire them up for Ireland without a drop of blood being spilled. In contrast, but very much in keeping with the times, O'Connell answered a call to duel in 1815 and fatally wounded his challenger.
The slow, reaction of the London government to the horrors of the Potatoe Famine was ultimate proof of the need for the Irish to govern themselves. O'Connell worked hard for other causes too - prison reform (having been a political prisoner himself) racism and slavery were some. He became the first Catholic Mayor of Dublin since 1690. In 1847 by then a widower, O'Connell set off on pilgrimage to Rome. He suffered health problems. He died en route to Genoa on May 15th.
His last wishes were honoured - his heart was buried in Rome and his body in Ireland.
So as we cross over O'Connell Bridge and enjoy its beauty, which is in its detail. The sandstone balustrades, the pretty garlands embellising the piers or the charming Parisian lamp standards, the stone steps to the river quaintly tucked on the westerly quay walls. We can let our minds wonder and think of all the activity this bridge has seen. From the horse drawn carriages to the modern means of transport. It has seen fashions come and go but it remains. When darkness falls, look over the Liffey, enjoy its beauty, the colours reflecting the lights above. You can then begin to understand how the River Liffey and O'Connell Bridge is still at the hearts of the city and its people.
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