River Liffey

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River Liffey
Dublin liffey.JPG
Liffey and O'Connell Bridge, in Dublin
Origin Mt. Kippure, County Wicklow
Mouth Irish Sea at Dublin Bay
Basin countries Ireland
Length ~125 km (75 mi)
Source elevation ~500 m (1,640 ft) (much at 0 to 30m)
Avg. discharge average 13.8 m3/s (3.7 in Aug. to 29.8 in Dec.)
Basin area N/A

The Liffey (An Life in Irish) is a river in Ireland. It flows through the centre of Dublin. The river supplies much of Dublin's water. Major rivers that flow into the Liffey are the River Dodder, the River Poddle and the River Camac.

History of the name[change | edit source]

The river was called An Ruirthech, meaning "fast (or strong) runner" before it was called Liffey.[1] The word Liphe (or Life) was the name of the plain (flat area of land) through which the river flowed but was later used to name the river itself.[2] It was also known as the Anna Liffey,[3] possibly because of the Irish for "River Liffey" - Abhainn na Life which sounds like "Anna Liffey" in English.[4]

Flow[change | edit source]

The Liffey starts with a lot of small streams in the Liffey Head Bog between Kippure and Tonduff in the Wicklow mountains. It flows for around 125 km (78 mi) through counties Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin. It flows into the Irish Sea at the mid-point of Dublin Bay. Most of its length is in Kildare.

The Liffey has a lot of tributaries (rivers that flow into it). Its major tributaries include the King's River, River Dodder, the River Poddle and the River Camac.

The Liffey does not have any natural lakes, and has only a few islands. There are a few areas with rapids, mostly as the river comes close to Dublin city.

There are dams built for three hydroelectric power stations along the river, at Poulaphouca, Golden Falls and Leixlip. A large reservoir is built at Poulaphouca.

Towns along the river include Ballymore Eustace, Athgarvan, Kilcullen, Newbridge, Caragh, Clane, Celbridge, Leixlip and Lucan before the river reaches the city of Dublin as it approaches its mouth.

Navigation and uses[change | edit source]

The River Liffey in Dublin city was used for many centuries for trade. The Vikings already used the river, and it was used until recent times. It is connected to the River Shannon via the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal. This connects Dublin to the west of Ireland by water.

Water supply[change | edit source]

Around 60% of the Liffey's flow is used for drinking water, and to supply industry. Much of this makes its way back into the river after it is cleaned in wastewater treatment plants. A popular myth is that Liffey water is used to make Guinness beer, but this is not true. Guinness uses water piped from the Wicklow mountains.

Traffic[change | edit source]

"Sarah's Bridge on the River Anna Liffey" (1831) Sarah's Bridge is today called Island Bridge. The then-new Wellington Monument in Phoenix Park is seen on the left of the picture.

The Lady Patricia[5] and Miranda Guinness[5] were cargo ships that were used to export Guinness from the St. James's Gate Brewery. They were well-known sight on the Liffey up to the 1990s.

In recent years, the only regular traffic on the river within the city is a boat which runs guided tours along the River Liffey through Dublin City centre. Downstream of the East-Link bridge, the river is still mainly used for commercial and ferry traffic.

Recreational use in Dublin[change | edit source]

The 2007 Liffey Swim passes the Dublin Boardwalk

The river is used by private, university and Garda rowing clubs in Chapelizod. The Liffey Descent canoeing event covers a 27 km (17 mi) course from Straffan to Islandbridge. That race has been held every year since 1960. The Liffey Swim takes place every year in late August or early September between Watling Bridge and The Custom House.

Bridges[change | edit source]

History[change | edit source]

The earliest stone bridge over the Liffey was the Bridge of Dublin. It was built by the Dominicans in 1428. It survived well into the 18th century.[6] It replaced an earlier wooden bridge (Dubhghalls Bridge) on the same site. Island Bridge was added in 1577.

When Dublin became important for business in the 17th century, 4 new bridges were added between 1670 and 1684. They were Barrack, or Bloody Bridge, (what is now Rory O'More Bridge), Essex Bridge (Grattan Bridge), Ormond Bridge (O'Donovan Rossa Bridge) and Arran Bridge.

The oldest bridge still standing is the Mellows Bridge. It was built in 1764 after the Arran Bridge (which was there before) was destroyed by floods in 1763.

The first iron bridge was the elegant Ha'penny Bridge built in 1816. The newest bridge is the Samuel Beckett Bridge opened in December 2009. It is a suspension bridge, it can move to allow river traffic to pass. [7][8]

Present day[change | edit source]

The river divides the Northside from the Southside of Dublin. It has a lot of bridges, mostly open for vehicular traffic (cars, trucks, buses etc.). Large bridges are the West-Link Bridge on the M50 motorway, the Seán Heuston Bridge and O'Connell Bridge.

There are 3 foot bridges in the city: the Millennium Bridge, the Seán O'Casey Bridge and the Ha'penny Bridge.

Bridges outside of Dublin include the Liffey Bridge at Celbridge, "The Bridge at 16" (a 19th century pedestrian suspension bridge), and the Leinster Aqueduct - which takes the Grand Canal over the Liffey at Caragh.

Popular culture references[change | edit source]

From Joyce to Radiohead, the Liffey is often mentioned in literature and song:

"riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (first sentence of novel).

A skiff, a crumpled throwaway, Elijah is coming, rode lightly down the Liffey, under Loopline Bridge, shooting the rapids where water chafed around the bridgepiers, sailing eastward past hulls and anchorchains, between the Custom House old dock and George’s quay.

James Joyce, Ulysses (novel)

She asked that it be named for her. - The river took its name from the land. - the land took its name from the woman.

Eavan Boland, Anna Liffey

That there, that's not me - I go where I please - I walk through walls, I float down the Liffey - I'm not here, this isn't happening

Radiohead, "How to Disappear Completely" from album Kid A

"Somebody once said that 'Joyce has made of this river the Ganges of the literary world,' but sometimes the smell of the Ganges of the literary world is not all that literary."

Brendan Behan, Confessions of an Irish Rebel.

"No man who has faced the Liffey can be appalled by the dirt of another river."

Iris Murdoch, Under the Net.

"But the Angelus Bell o'er the Liffey's swell rang out through the foggy dew."

Canon Charles O'Neill, The Foggy Dew.
A view upstream from Grattan Bridge, towards the Four Courts (the domed building), with Essex Quay and Wood Quay on the left and Upper Ormond Quay on the right of the picture.

References[change | edit source]

  1. Dublin Castle - Prehistoric Dublin - Chapter 1
  2. Byrne, F. J. 1973. Irish Kings and High-Kings. Dublin. p.150
  3. As indicated by the caption of an engraving published in 1831
  4. Seanad Éireann - Vol 159, May, 1999 - Motion on National Archives - David Norris (senator and Trinity lecturer) referencing Georgian Society records
  5. 5.0 5.1 IrishShips.com - Background on the Guinness boats on the Liffey
  6. Phillips M, Hamilton A. Project history of Dublin's River Liffey Bridges, Proccedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Bridge Engineering 156, December 2003, issue BE4, pages 161-179.
  7. Irish Times - Samuel Beckett Bridge opens - 11 December 2009
  8. Dublin City Council - Samuel Beckett Bridge

Other websites[change | edit source]


Coordinates: 53°21′N 6°13′W / 53.35°N 6.217°W / 53.35; -6.217