WOLFE TONE BRIDGE
by Tom Kenny
Wolfe Tone Bridge was the third bridge to be built over the river. The West Bridge (now known as O’Brien’s Bridge) was the first and dates from medieval times. The Salmon Weir Bridge dates from 1820 and the Wolfe Tone Bridge was built in the mid-nineteenth century.
In olden times the fish market used to be on Bridge Street and then they moved it to Spanish Parade. This meant a long roundabout walk for the main suppliers to the market, Claddagh fisherwomen, so they protested to the authorities and eventually, the bridge was constructed, allowing them easy access to the fishmarket. It was named after Theobald Wolfe Tone, the famous republican revolutionary who was one of the founders of the United Irishmen. He fought in a number of military engagements against the British Navy. He was captured in 1798 while trying to land French troops and supplies in Ireland and he was sentenced to death. He took his own life before they could carry it out. He is regarded as the father of Republicanism in Ireland.
The bridge was a temporary wooden affair and one needed to be brave to cross it. As you can see from our first photograph taken just a few years after the bridge was built, it was a rickety affair for pedestrians only and looks like it might have been a swing bridge. There was a legend associated with the bridge (which was probably invented by Claddagh women anxious to get their husbands home from the pub early) that if one crossed the bridge after midnight, one was likely to be attacked by a 'gliomach' or sea monster. Another version of this piseóg was that it was a large black dog with 'fiery eyes and snow white teeth' that would rise up out of the river and follow anyone who dared to be seen on the bridge at that time – one had to outrun the dog as far as the crossroads at Lynch's castle – the dog would go no further. A crucifix or holy water could protect one from this beast.
This bridge eventually became dangerous and the Town Improvement Commissioners replaced it with a new iron structure in 1887. Our second photograph shows a group of people present at the official opening ceremony including the chairman Colonel O'Hara who performed the opening, Mr. R.W. Somerville, the engineer, and Matthew Pitts from Leeds who was the contractor. This new construction was a major advance in terms of health and safety on its predecessor.
A major increase in the volume of traffic using the bridge meant it had to be replaced by the current structure. Our third photograph shows the chairman of the County Council, Eamonn Corbett formally opening the bridge in 1934. There is a plaque (badly in need of cleaning) halfway across the bridge commemorating this event. The bridge has stood the test of time, especially considering the tremendous force of the river constantly battering it. It is a functional bridge which recently had a 50 metre cantilever pedestrian bridge added to one side, and may soon have another added on the south side. The views from the bridge are wonderful and cause many pedestrians to stop while crossing.