This article gives an overview of a 5.7km walk along the Liffey as the river flows slowly through Dublin’s city centre. The Liffey Walk is unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Liffey Walk is completely urban. Indeed the route is probably through the busiest area in the whole of Ireland. Secondly, the Liffey Walk crosses a total of 17 bridges. Which is quite a lot considering the total distance of the walk is only 5.7km.
Finally, it’s a walk that I would recommend you wander off the trail and explore away from the banks of the river. There is so much to see and do in Dublin’s fair city. As such, some of the most famous Irish landmarks are just a stone’s throw away from the Liffey.
Why Should You Do The Liffey Walk?
Ok, so you are not going to see much natural beauty as part of the Liffey Walk. However, you will get to experience a lot of history and get a good feel for the capital city (the good and the bad).
The River Liffey rises in the Wicklow Mountains and flows for 132 km through Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin before entering the Irish Sea in Dublin Bay.
It is not possible to walk the full length of the river. Indeed it is not possible to kayak the entirety of the river either as there are dams at three locations along the river (Poulaphouca, Golden Falls and Leixlip).
This article describes only a small sub-section of 5.7km of the river. I have uploaded a map of the route to alltrails.com but it is very easy to navigate. The walk starts at the Sean Heuston Bridge beside Heuston Train Station. Then, you simply follow the course of the river, criss-crossing each bridge as you go.
I use Alltrails quite a lot in my walking and hiking around Ireland. I find it a very useful tool as I can see my location in real time overlaid onto the trail map itself. If you are interested in joining alltrails, please click here. There are free and premium options available. I would recommend starting out with the free version and seeing if you like it (just to note in the interest of transparency that I will get a small referral fee for every person that signs up using that link).
As noted above, the walk bisects the centre of Dublin City and as a result there are a multitude of nearby attractions that might be of interest. I provide some details on a few of these below.
Sean Hueston Bridge
My starting point for the Liffey Walk is the Sean Heuston Bridge. Construction completed on this bridge in 1827. Originally called Kings Bridge after a visit from an English king – the bridge was renamed in post independence republican fervour to Sarsfield Bridge (after Patrick Sarsfield – a leading Jacobite figure in the war against King William in the 1600’s).
Sarsfield must have been deemed not republican enough as the Bridge (and nearby train station) was subsequently named after Sean Heuston in 1941. Sean was executed for his part in the 1916 rising. Heuston held the nearby Medicity Institution for two days while commanding only 20 volunteers.
The bridge today serves pedestrians and the Luas Red Line.
Frank Sherwin Bridge
You can wander the short distance to the Frank Sherwin Bridge. The Frank Sherwin Bridge is a much newer piece of infrastructure having been constructed in 1982. Frank was another freedom fighter involved in the War of Independence – being captured and beaten by British forces in 1922. Frank would spend the next two years interned in the Curragh. Sherwin represented the Dublin North Central constituency as a TD from 1957 to 1965.
You walk the 450 metres to the next bridge with two of Ireland’s biggest tourist attractions on either side of you. On the north side is the National Museum of Ireland while on the south side of the river is Saint James Gate Brewery – the home of Guinness.
The brewery dominates this part of the city and for many many Dubliners the smell of roasted hops that comes from the making of Guinness is an intrinsic part of city life.
Tourists too have fallen in love with the Guinness story. Over 1.7 million people visit the Guinness Storehouse annually – making it Ireland’s most popular attraction (followed closely by the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare).
Rory O’More Bridge
The next bridge is another bridge now named after an Irish rebel. The bridge has quite the storied past though with many name changes over the years.
The original wooden bridge was named the Barracks Bridge after its construction in 1670. The reason being the bridge was beside a barracks (makes sense in fairness). The bridge soon became known though as the Bloody Bridge after an attempt by local ferrymen to burn it down. The effort to protect their river crossing livelihood resulted in 20 arrests and four of the ferrymen being killed.
Stone replaced the timber of Bloody Bridge in 1704 which itself was replaced with the current cast iron structure in 1859. The bridge was renamed after English couple Victoria and Albert at this time.
The current name of the Rory O’More Bridge was implemented in the 1930’s. O’More is most famous for being one of the main leaders of a 1641 rebellion against British rule in Ireland.
James Joyce Bridge
Another 100 metres or so brings you to the next bridge. If ever a person deserved a bridge over the River Liffey to be named after them, it is James Joyce. One of the newer crossings over the River Liffey, construction of the James Joyce bridge completed in 2003.
Joyce’s short story “The Dead” is set in 15 Ushers Island (a building on the south side of the bridge). There has been controversy in recent years over the building – now derelict, with the plans to convert this famous literary building into a hostel described as “cultural vandalism”.
Joyce also personifies the River Liffey in his character Anna Livia Pluarabelle in the book Finnegan’s Wake – the river itself symbolising the eternal and universal female – Anna is both woman and River. My Joycean knowledge is very limited but if you want to discover more about one of Ireland’s most famous authors, the James Joyce Centre (located on North Great George’s Street) is only a 10 minute walk from the river. As such, it makes a perfect detour from the Liffey Walk.
Another short walk brings you to Mellows Bridge. The structure is named after Liam Mellows – a member of the Irish Republican Army executed in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. Mellows participated in both the 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent war of Independence. He took the anti-treaty side and was executed following capture by the forces of the Provisional Irish Government.
Father Mathew Bridge
Next up is the Father Matthew Bridge. This site is said to be an ancient crossing point of the River with bridges at this location recorded as far back as the 11th century. Before this, the area was a fording point of the river which provides the Irish name of the city (Baile Atha Cliath which translates to Town of the Hurdle Ford).
Construction completed on the current incarnation of the bridge in 1818. The bridge enjoyed many different names over the years but was renamed as the Father Mathew Bridge in 1938. Named after Father Theobald Mathew – a teetotaler who is associated with the Total Abstinence Society. Rather ironically, Dublin’s oldest pub – The Brazen Head is situated on the south side of the bridge. This popular tourist venue is well worth a visit should you get thirsty along the Liffey walk.
O’Donovan Rossa Bridge
A short 250m walk will bring you to the next Liffey Bridge. The walk here goes past the Four Courts – an impressive building on the north side of the river. The Four Courts was destroyed in 1922 as part of the opening salvos of the Irish Civil War. While civil war is an atrocity in itself, huge damage to the recorded history of the state also occurred when the Public Record Office went up in flames during the battle. A huge swath of Irish History went up in smoke in the process.
This bridge itself is named after Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. Born in 1831, O’Donovan Rossa was a leader of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
While extremely active in Irish rebellion movements during his lifetime, O’Donovan Rossa’s biggest gift to Republicanism probably came as a result of his death. Thousands attended his funeral in Dublin in 1915 where Padraig Pearse gave his famous graveside oration at Glasnevin Cemetery. The Cemetery tour of Glasnevin includes re-enactments of a segment of this famous speech “the fools, the fools, the fools – they have left us with our Fenian dead”.
While Glasnevin Cemetery is a few kilometres from the Liffey, it is one of my most highly recommended tourist attractions in Dublin. If you are in the city for a few days, please do visit and take the Cemetery tour.
The bridge itself was constructed in 1816 – replacing the previous bridge in this location which was swept away during storms in 1802.
To the south of the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge lies Christchurch Cathedral. The Cathedral dates back to the 11th century and is well worth a visit. Also check out the Dublinia Viking and Medieval Musuem next door.
Next up is Grattan Bridge. Grattan Bridge connects Capel Street on the north and Parliament Street on the south of the river. Capel Street has recently been fully pedestrianised and is now a buzzing area of the city with plenty of bars, shops and restaurants.
The south side of the river is Temple Bar – the centre of nightlife in Dublin and the city’s cultural quarter. Being such a popular tourist attraction some of the prices of food and drinks can be quite eye watering. So prepare yourself for that.
The current iteration of Grattan Bridge was built in 1872 although the river has been bridged at this site as far back as 1676. Named after Henry Gratton, an MP in the late 1700’s who campaigned for more legislative freedom from Britain for the Irish Parliament.
The Millennium Bridge is a pretty pedestrian bridge built in 1999 to mark the upcoming new Millenium.
Liffey Bridge/Ha’penny Bridge
A more famous pedestrian bridge is just to the east of the Millennium Bridge. Although officially named the Liffey Bridge, I have never in my life heard anyone refer to it as anything other than the Ha’penny Bridge.
Building of the bridge completed in 1816. The project was completed by a man named William Walsh. In return for the construction of the bridge, Walsh was given the right to charge a half penny toll for pedestrians crossing the bridge for the next 100 years – there were turnstiles on either end of the Bridge. In typical Irish fashion, tolls continued to be charged until 103 years later in 1919.
Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, leads on to O’Connell Bridge. A common argument in Dublin is whether O’Connell Bridge is the only bridge in Europe that is wider than it is long. The general consensus is that the bridge is indeed 5 metres wider than it’s length. However, no one is really sure whether there are other bridges in Europe also boasting this interesting feature.
Previously named Carlisle Bridge after an English Earl, the crossing was renamed after Daniel O’Connell in 1882. O’Connell, our great Liberator, secured the first steps in Catholic Emancipation for the Irish people in 1829.
Rosie Hackett Bridge
The newest bridge on the River Liffey is named after Rosie Hackett and opened in 2014. Named after trade unionist and revolutionary Rosie Hackett, the naming makes sense given the proximity to Liberty Hall (headquarters of the SIPTU Trade Union) on the north side of the Liffey. Construction of the bridge was completed in order to carry the Luas Green Line.
Rather disappointingly, the Rosie Hackett Bridge is the only bridge over the Liffey currently named after a woman.
The bridge at Liberty Hall is named after Isaac Butt. Butt, a leader of the Home Rule movement died in the year the bridge was built – 1879.
Liberty Hall has hosted a number of hugely significant historical moments. The original Liberty Hall was the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army. It acted as a soup kitchen during the infamous 1913 Dublin Lockout. At the outbreak of the First World War, a banner from Liberty Hall proudly proclaimed that “We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland”. As the base for the Citizen Army, Liberty Hall played a hugely important part of the 1916 Rising. The leaders of the Rising marched from Liberty Hall to the GPO to read out the Proclamation.
The current Liberty Hall was built in 1956. Despite all the history attached to it, the 16 story building is an extremely ugly looking building. Which is a real pity.
After Butt Bridge you pass under the Loopline Rail Bridge – the only bridge you will go under during this walk.
Talbot Memorial Bridge
The walk from Butt Bridge to the Talbot Memorial Bridge takes you past the Customs House on the north side of the River.
Interestingly, this is the second bridge named after someone involved with promoting abstinence from alcohol. Matt Talbot was a reformed alcoholic who became increasingly devout in his sobriety. On his death in 1925, he was discovered to have numerous cords and chains wrapped around his body as a symbol of his devotion to Mary.
Talbot is now considered a patron for those struggling with alcoholism. A statue of Talbot stands on the south side of the bridge.
Any aficionados of the Father Ted TV show, may recall the Matty Hislop character (he was allergic to cats so kept a cat in his pocket) which is a reference to Matt Talbot.
Sean O’Casey Bridge
You’ll walk past a couple of interesting spots on the south side of the river on the way to the Sean O’Casey Bridge. First up is The Famine Memorial – a haunting sculpture dedicated to the Great Famine. Rather fittingly, the Irish Emigration Museum is only a short distance away.
The Sean O’Casey Bridge is a pedestrian bridge built in 2005. O’Casey was an Irish playwright born in 1880 in nearby Dorset Street. O’Casey is most well known for plays such as “The Shadow of a Gunman”, “Juno and the Paycock” and “The Plough and the Stars”.
Samuel Beckett Bridge
The next bridge is the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the walk towards this impressive structure brings you past the Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship.
Construction completed on the Samuel Beckett Bridge in 2009. The bridge is arguably the most beautiful in Dublin, the cables across the span of the bridge evoking an image of a Harp lying on its side.
Samuel Beckett is another famous Dublin playwright – this time from the early 20th century. Beckett, a Noble prize winner in Literature, is most famous for his play “Waiting for Godot”.
The north side of the Samuel Beckett Bridge is the starting point for the Royal Canal. I have walked the length of the canal and written extensively about this great 144km waymarked trail. The first section I documented is another city walk from the Samuel Beckett Bridge to Ashtown in west Dublin.
Tom Clarke/East Link Bridge
The final Liffey Bridge is the Tom Clarke Bridge. Although more commonly referred to as the East Link Bridge. Construction of the bridge completed in 1984. The bridge commemorates Tom Clarke, a 1916 leader and signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic read out at the GPO at the start of the Easter Rising. Clarke would be executed by firing squad by the British just 9 days later.
Tom Clarke Bridge marks the end of the Liffey Walk. Handily, you can walk to the nearby Luas Stop at the O2 Arena. The Luas will take you back to the start of the walk at Hueston. Or you can use it to connect to various other transport links.
Reflections on a River Walk
The Liffey Walk is a fantastic way to explore the city of Dublin and offers a great insight into the history of the city – particularly its rebels and writers.
Finally, I will finish with a note on safety during the Liffey Walk. Similar to any city centre location, there can be some antisocial behaviour on show. As a result, open drinking or drug use not being an unusual sight along the banks of the River Liffey. Therefore, I would advise anyone undertaking this walk to just keep your wits about you. In saying that, it’s extremely unlikely that anything untoward would happen. Like any city though, you just need to be mindful of the risk.