Diving Into The History Behind Dublin’s Quirky And Iconic Ha’penny Bridge (Guide)

hapenny bridge dublin city
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Like most cities, Dublin has a tonne of bridges scattered across its bustling streets (24, in fact) ranging from big and old to recently erected and brand-spanking new.

While a couple slot into your typical-run-of-the-mill-city-bridge category, built with function in mind rather than aesthetics, the majority of Dublin’s bridges are delightfully unique, with some even downright quirky.

Enter the Ha’penny Bridge

hapenny bridge dublin
Photo by Chris Hill

Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge is bursting with character and is a favourite amongst tourists and locals alike, with around 30,000 people crossing it every day.

Quick Facts About the Ha'penny Bridge
      • Built in 1816, it was the first iron bridge in Ireland and cost £3,000 to construct
      • It started its life as a toll bridge where pedestrians were charged a ha’penny to cross
      • Its official name is the ‘Liffey Bridge’
      • Around 30,000 pedestrians cross the bridge every day

A favourite with tourists and locals alike, the bridge is one of Dublin’s most iconic landmarks, taking people from Merchant’s Arch to Liffey Street since its construction in 1816.

The History of the Ha’penny Bridge

dublins hapenny bridge
Photo via Tourism Ireland

Long before the Ha’penny Bridge was built, there were seven ferries, operated by William Walsh, that were used to transport passengers across the river Liffey.

In the early 1800s, good aul Willy was given a bit of a shock when he was told that his ferries were no longer in good enough condition to take people across the rivers murky waters.

He was given an ultimatum – either refurbish the ferries to a condition fit for the public or build a bridge across the river.

*Spoiler alert* – he built the bridge.

And why wouldn’t he?! After choosing to scrap the ferries, Willy was granted the right to charge a toll from anyone who crossed the bridge in a contract that was to last 100 years.

The price of the toll was a ha’penny.

For a while, the toll was increased to a Penny Ha’penny (one and a half pence), but eventually, the powers that be saw the light and dropped it in 1919.
Back when the toll was in full swing, there were turnstiles at either end of the bridge, where people would pay their fare to cross.

hapenny bridge dublin city
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

The Ha’penny Bridge was constructed in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, the firstcentere of iron casting in Britain, and cost £3,000.

Christened the Wellington Bridge after the Duke of Wellington, a native Dubliner who won the Battle of Waterloo a year previous, it was and still is referred to by locals as the Ha’penny Bridge.

Its official name is now ‘the Liffey Bridge’, but you’d be hard done by to find someone refer to it as such.

It stood proudly in its original state defying the test of time, heavy usage and a shed-load of wind and rain, up until 1998 when a Dublin City Council assessment called for refurbishment.

The refurbishment saw the Ha’penny Bridge tented and a temporary bailey bridge erected in its place.

Over 1000 individual rail pieces were labelled, removed and sent to Northern Ireland where they were repaired and restored with such skill that 85% of the original railwork was retained.

The video below offers a great insight into the complex process of the restoration.

Toll Dodging During the 1916 Easter Rising

The lads over at Come Here To Me! tell a great story about toll dodging at the bridge during the 1916 Easter Rising when a group of Volunteers made their way to Dublin from County Kildare.

On their travels, they needed to get from one side of the Liffey to the next and decided their quickest route would take them over the Ha’penny, however, they didn’t plan on shelling out for the toll.

“I went down the laneway we had earlier traversed and there was a good deal of rifle fire. I saw no enemy as I came out on the quays at the Metal Bridge. There was the toll collector, who demanded a halfpenny.

Having seen O’Kelly succeed in gaining passage by presenting his revolver, I followed suit and I was allowed to pass. I traveled down the quays to O’Connell Bridge (more of the story can be read here).”

And that's a wrap!
The Ha’penny Bridge is well worth a visit the next time your in Dublin. Top-tip: try stopping by outside of the morning (6:30-9:00) and evening (3:30-6:30) rush hour. You’ll avoid the thousands of people who use the bridge on their walk to work.
Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

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