Monday, 2 June 2014

The Ha'penny Bridge and the lovelocks

The Ha'penny Bridge over the Liffey in Dublin
Everyone calls it the Ha'penny Bridge, don't they? Even though its official name is the Liffey Bridge, and its original name was the Wellington Bridge (after the Duke).
I guess most Dubliners take it for granted, this pedestrian bridge at the heart of the city, as if it has always been there and always will be.

The bridge will soon be two centuries old. It was opened on 19 May 1816, and became the starting place for the first Moss Reid novel, Another Case in Cowtown. This opening is also at the start of the long heatwave in June 2013:
The young couple strolled arm in arm to the middle of the bridge. The Ha’penny Bridge, so called because once upon a time it had a toll, back in the days when Dublin still had halfpennies and the bridge still had a turnstile at either end.
Today the bridge had another toll of sorts: padlocks. Hundreds of them dotted its railings, clumps of metal mussels clinging to its steel ribs.
Some of the locks had names on them, written or engraved. This latest lock wasn’t even locked yet. It had “Julie + Terry” scratched into it. Julie held the lock while Terry turned the key. He gave the key to her. She held it up behind her head, giving him a “shall I, shan’t I?” kind of look.... 
Some of this is drawn from specific real-life events. There really are - or at least were - love locks on the bridge. And Dublin City Council really is in running battles with the "love-lockers". On 26 February 2014 the Council put laminated notices on the pedestrian bridge: "Please do not put padlocks on the Ha'penny Bridge as they are causing damage."

A council spokeswoman told the Irish Times that the council had removed 300 kg of locks from the bridge in the previous year.

The practical side of me says the locks are inflicting ongoing damage to this iconic bridge. The romantic side says: well, isn't it just a load of symbolics?

Both sides say the council with its wirecutters and laminated notices doesn't really stand a chance. Maybe it should go with the flow, charge the love-lockers a toll and use the money to make the bridge stronger but even better again.

Besides the love locks angle, why begin a novel on a bridge? And why on this particular bridge?

Perhaps because the Liffey is at the heart of the story of Dublin itself. And maybe because these bridges knit the two halves of the city together. And this particular bridge has become one of the main symbols of Dublin.

More particularly for a crime novel, standing over a bridge and chucking things into the watery depths below has all kinds of of literal and metaphorical possibilities.

Thanks to Thorsten Pohl Thpohl for the main photo above.