5. Anna Livia Bridge
The village of Chapelizod is located between the River Liffey and the steeply sloping hills leading up to Ballyfermot to the south and the Fifteen Acres of the Phoenix Park to the north. A map created sometime between 1655 and 1666, as part of Sir William Petty’s Down Survey of Ireland, shows Chapelizod with a church, a structure at the location of the King’s House, two mills, and the ford of St. Laurence – but no bridge – crossing the river between the two ancient roads leading westwards out of Dublin city. The village of St. Laurence was located on the south bank of the River Liffey in between the ford and Palmerstown.
In 1662 the newly appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler the Duke of Ormonde, initiated the conversion of the ancient King’s House into the Viceregal Lodge (the residence of the Lord Lieutenant before Áras an Uachtaráin was constructed in 1751). The Duke of Ormonde contracted a man named William Dodson to enlarge the building, and around the same time a letter was sent from Dodson to James Butler, which contained an invoice of 195 guineas, 1 shilling and 7 pennies for “making one new bridge at Chappell Izard”. Completed in the 1660s, this is the oldest known masonry bridge built across the River Liffey in County Dublin.
The Liffey served as the backbone of Chapelizod's industrial past. In 1380 King Richard II of England granted control of the fishery, weir, and millrace of Chapelizod to the Priory of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, a monastic order based in Kilmainham. Flax was dried on the fields that extended along the southern banks of the river, before being used to weave cloth in the mills that were built along the river banks. Later, there were even attempts to manufacture silk in Chapelizod! Much later in time the Phoenix Park Distillery was built alongside the river, drawing upon the Liffey for its hydraulic power and as a source of the key ingredient for their drink.
People have long valued the River Liffey for its natural beauty as much as its industrial usefulness, as expressed by James Fraser in his Hand Book for Travellers of Ireland, published in 1844:
“The road from Chapelizod to this town [Lucan] may be agreeably varied, by keeping the left bank of the Liffey. The scenery, which is purely rural, is, perhaps, the best of that character around the city; and equal to any part of the Liffey's circuitous course. The high banks, the neat villas, and rustic cottages, with their accompanying plantations; — the mixed cultivation, with the extensive fields of strawberries, mingling with all the variety of crops which market gardens exhibit; the meandering of the Liffey, and the various rapids occasioned by damming its waters in order to propel the machinery connected with the small factories along its course; the verdant meads which occupy the sinuosities of the narrow valley, and the undulating road which is carried over the summits of the little hills, all combine to render this a very charming stretch of rural scenery.”
The Strawberry Beds extend for some two miles along the north bank of the river upstream from Dodson’s Bridge. From as far back as 1837 this area was famous for the small, pale, and exquisite strawberries that grew along the steep slopes of the valley. Holidaymakers would descend to Chapelizod and beyond to enjoy these delicious fruits, frequenting taverns and hotels like The Wren’s Nest and, from 1865, the Angler’s Rest. The strawberry plants sadly disappeared in the early years of the 20th century. The Liffey also provided ample opportunities for fishing throughout Chapelizod’s history, both upstream and downstream from Dodson’s bridge. The southern bank of the Liffey up as far as Ballyfermot was a popular site for sports like duck shooting, which continued until around 1950, and in more recent times the river is used by the many rowing clubs that line its banks to the east.
Dodson’s Bridge and the Liffey have also provided literary inspiration for many of the writers that have lived in Chapelizod. The bridge served as the setting of Peter Brien’s ghostly encounters in a short story named The Spectre Lovers, written by Sheridan Le Fanu in 1851 and published in the Dublin University Magazine. The River Liffey was later personified by Jame’s Joyce’s character Anna Livia Plurabelle in Finnegans Wake, a character no doubt inspired by Joyce’s days spent in Chapelizod walking across the bridge and along the river banks
On June 16th, 1982, the bridge was renamed as Anna Livia Bridge to mark the centenary of the birth of James Joyce. Today, the Anna Livia Bridge continues to serve as a vital fording point between the northern and southern areas of the village, and a significant link between north and south Dublin, and it continues to provide one of the best views of the River Liffey from within the village.
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1851) Ghost Stories of Chapelizod. First published in the Dublin University Magazine, January 1851. Republished posthumously in the 1923 collection Madam Crowl's Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery, edited by M. R. James. Available to read online here.
James Joyce (1939) Finnegans Wake
Carmel McAsey (1962) "Chapelizod, Co. Dublin." Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 17, No. 2, 37-53.
Francis Elrington Ball (1906) A History of the County Dublin: Clonsilla, Leixlip, Lucan, Aderrig, Kilmactalway, Kilbride, Kilmahuddrick, Esker, Palmerston, Ballyfermot, Clondalkin, Drimnagh, Crumlin, St. Catherine, St. Nicholas Without, St. James, St. Jude, and Chapelizod, as well as within the Phoenix park. Dublin: Alex. Thom & Company.
Kevin Brennan (1980) "J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Chapelizod and the Dublin Connection." Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 33, No. 4, 122-133.
James Fraser (1854) A Hand Book for Travellers in Ireland: Descriptive of Its Scenery, Towns, Seats, Antiquities, Etc., with All the Railways Now Open, and Various Statistical Tables. Dublin: James McGlashan.
A.E.J. Went (1954) "Fisheries of the River Liffey: II. Notes on the Corporation Fishery from the Time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries." The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 84, No. 1, 41-58.
John Cronin & Associates and Cathal Crimmins Architects (2003) The Built Heritage of Chapelizod: A report to Dublin City Council and The Heritage Council as a part of the ‘Chapelizod Urban Design, Conservation and Land Use Plan 2003’.