A perfect arch spanning the Liffey River, the Ha’penny bridge is one of the most recognizable sights in Dublin. It was the city’s first pedestrian bridge and remained the only footbridge in Dublin until the Millennial Bridge opened in 1999.
When it opened in 1816, an average of 450 people crossed its timber planks daily. Today, the number is closer to 30,000 — but they no longer have to pay a ha’penny for the convenience!
Before the Ha’penny Bridge was built, anyone needing to get across the Liffey had to travel by boat or risk sharing the road with horse-drawn carriages. Seven different ferries, all operated by a city Alderman named William Walsh, would transport passengers over the river at different points along the bank. Eventually, the ferries fell into such disrepair that Walsh was ordered to either replace them all or to build a bridge.
Walsh abandoned his fleet of leaking boats and got into the bridge business after being granted the right to recoup his lost ferry income by charging a toll to cross the bridge for the next 100 years. Turnstiles were installed at either end to ensure no one was able to avoid the toll — a half pence fee. The old half penny toll gave birth to the bridge’s nickname: Ha’Penny. The bridge has gone through several other official names, but since 1922 it has formally been called the Liffey Bridge.
The bridge opened in 1816 and its inauguration was marked with 10 days of free passage before the halfpence toll was instituted. At one point, the fee went up to a penny ha’penny (1½ pence), before being brought to an end in 1919. Now a symbol of the city, the Ha’penny Bridge was fully restored in 2001.
The Ha’penny bridge is an elliptical arch bridge that stretches 141 feet (43 meters) across the Liffey. It is one of the earliest cast iron bridges of its kind and is made up of iron ribs with pretty decorative arches and lampposts. At the time of its construction, Ireland was a part of the British Empire, so the bridge was actually manufactured by the Coalbrookdale Company in England and shipped back to Dublin to be reassembled on the spot.
A halfpenny doesn’t go very far these days but even that small toll has long been eliminated which means the Ha’penny Bridge is free to visit. Pronounced “Hey-penny,” the bridge never closes and is one of the busiest pedestrian bridges in all of Dublin. Visit day or night while exploring the city or stop by on your way to a pub dinner in Temple Bar. (But remember that while it can be tempting to add a love lock to the iron sides, the weight of the locks can damage the historic bridge so they are no longer allowed).
What to Do nearby
The Irish capital is compact and the Ha’penny Bridge can be found in the heart of the city so there is no shortage of activities nearby. On one side of the bridge is O’Connell Street, a bustling thoroughfare lined with pubs and shops.
At the center of the street is The Spire, a stainless-steel monument in the shape of a sharpened needle that stands 390 feet tall. It is built on the spot where Nelson’s Pillar once stood before being destroyed in a 1966 bombing.
Walk down O’Connell Street and stroll across Ha’Penny to find yourself in Temple Bar. The lively pub district is full of revelers day and night, though it is best after dark when many of the bars host live music. For daytime sightseeing, City Hall and Dublin Castle are a five-minute walk past Temple Bar.
Just before crossing the bridge is a bronze statue of two women sitting down to chat with their shopping bags at their feet on Lower Liffey Street. The 1988 artwork was created by Jakki McKenna as a tribute to city life. It is a popular meeting spot, and has been given a colorful nickname by Dubliners: “the hags with the bags.”
From 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, head to The Grand Social for the Ha’penny Flea Market which offers vintage shopping a few streets over from the bridge. The indoor market changes weekly with rotating vendors setting up stalls selling knickknacks, retro clothing, and accessories, and even original art, all while a DJ spins vinyl records. This being Dublin, pints are also available so you can sip and shop at the same time.