Sixteen bridges across Liffey in Co. Kildare

As the river Liffey traverses through this county for a distance of almost one hundred miles it has not too surprising to find that no less than sixteen bridges cross it in the county.

The earliest historical mention is in the statute rolls of 1463: "Grants were made, and divers customs were to be levied on various towns," including Naas, "for the repair of the town walls, pavage and repairs to bridges, by which said towns are greatly strengthened."

The six-arched Naas Bridge then mentioned was that at Carragh. 200 years later the Down Survey of 1656 records bridges at Carragh, Kilcullen and St. Wolstan's, Celbridge.

Continuing improvement in road-making is evident from Arthur Young's comments in his late 18th century A Tour in Ireland in which he says: "Any person wishing to make or amend a road has it measured by two persons, who swear to the measurements before a justice of the peace. It is described as leading from one market town to another, and that it will be a public road, and that it will require such a sum." About that time Austin Cooper described Athy as "a small town situated on the river Barrow, over which is a plain bridge, with a low square castle adjoining on the east side." By then there were eight bridges over the Liffey, at Kilcullen, Harristown, New Bridge, (Carragh), Clane, Celbridge, Leixlip, St. Wolstans, and Ballymore Eustace which was then in Co. Dublin.

The six-arched Carragh bridge, dating from 1656, is the oldest surviving one. It has been described as "a rare example of the transition from the pointed segmental to segmental arc form in bridge construction."

Maurice Jakis, a canon of the Cathedral, Kildare, who built Kilcullen bridge, was also responsible for Leighlin bridge in 1320. It was an important crossing of the river from earliest times, and it is understandable that a canon from the cathedral, well versed in stone, would be selected to plan and erect the bridge. There is mention of it in 1495, but it was destroyed in the Cromwellian wars, and in 1644 when Ormonde quartered his troop at Ballymore and Sir William Willoughbly's detachment crossed the Liffey they had to go by the Athgarvan ford. That same year a French traveller noted: "We dined at Kilcolin Bridge where ends the English ground. We swam over the river with much trouble, carrying our clothes upon our heads, the Irish having broken the bridge during the religious wars."

The Dublin Penny Journal in 1840 noted the "Leighlin Bridge was built to facilitate intercourse between the religious houses of old and new Leighlin, and then also was built the bridges at Kilcullen and St. Wolstan's, which still exist." That Augustinian friary had been founded about 1205, and the four-arched bridge across the Liffey was financed by the Mayor of Dublin in 1308. It was taken down in 1949 when the Leixlip hydro-electric scheme was being developed, and a replacement bridge, similar in plan and width, was built.

However, comments the authors of Irish Stone Bridges, Archdeacon Sherlock, in commenting on the Horse-pass bridge in Poulaphuca said: "It would have been far better to have let it rest beneath the waters like the Horsepass Bridge, had that been possible.

"Better by far than building castles or taking them by storm." He said that the road way was nine feet wide, and the undersides of the arches bear wattle marks, and there was a large deserted mill nearby, and an ancient ford somewhat below the bridge. In the 18th century some barbarians proposed to take it down by this was strongly opposed by Mr Richard Cane, who deserves the thanks of posterity for his resistance, paticularly as he offered to build another bridge lower down at his own expense."

The English traveller John Dunton in 1863 "jogged on through Palmerstown, St. Catherines and Leixlip, all upon the banks of the river, swans on the water, a number of fishermen on the banks, good houses and pleasant seats. Naas, a good, handsome town with several stone houses, and two handsome taverns, several inns, a large church and a session house. We rid on about a mile and came to a place called Grigginstown, or Strafford's folly, it had a chimney for everyday of the year; some miles further on is New Bridge, standing on the Liffey, a river rising in the mountains towards the county of Wicklow, it is well stored with excellent trout, and has several agreeable seats on its banks."
By far the most spectacular bridge over the Liffey of the Leinster Aquaduct which carries both the Grand Canal and the road to Rathangan. The fine five-arched construction of 1780 has an arched passage beneath giving access to the other side of the river.

At Monasterevin the six-arched bridge over the Barrow was constructed in 1832 by the Earl of Drogheda, carrying the Mountmellick, and in 1827 work commenced on the aqueduct over the Barrow, to carry the Mountmellick extension of the Grand Canal, with a lifting bridge, now electrically operated. These changes to the canal system left behind the blind bridge now partly buried. The Pass Bridge, sometimes called Essex Bridge, named from the passage of that gentleman and his army on the 16th century, is one of the oldest bridges in the county.

Courtesy of the Leinster Leader