Crossing O’Connell Bridge

Modern Dublin radiates from O’Connell Bridge. The River Liffey divides the city between North and South, flowing swiftly East to the port and the wider world beyond. The bridge marks the end of O’Connell Street, the city’s principal thoroughfare running due North behind us. We’re heading South of the river where the thoroughfare divides into d’Olier Street and Westmoreland Street. Four named quays meet, Burgh Quay and Aston Quay on the Southside, with Bachelor’s Walk and Eden Quay on the Northside. So, seven roadways and a river, and by the river the sea, and on to the whole world.

This acrylic catches us entering the nexus of the bridge. It’s a sunny winter morning and the sun pours down like honey from a vertiginous sky. Ahead, the centrepiece is a six storey Gothic Revival Chateau which seems to be the fulcrum of the spectacular weather patterns above. People and cars pass by, overhead a seagull circles, perhaps singing away to himself.

The feeling of space is emphasised by the unusually wide proportions of the bridge and connecting streets. The original Carlisle Bridge from the end of the eighteenth century was hump backed and narrow, but redevelopment in 1880 created a structure which was said to be as broad as it was long: fifty metres wide and forty five long.

D’Olier Street branches left, Westmoreland Street right. D’Olier Street is named for Jeremiah D’Olier, a Huguenot goldsmith who became Dublin City Sherriff in 1788 and a Wide Streets Commissioner. The Commission was established in 1758 and over the next ninety years transformed Dublin from a medieval maze of alleyways into a modern city of wide thoroughfares. D’Olier Street and Westmoreland Street are each ninety feet wide.

The modern building to the left is O’Connell Bridge House. Built in 1964, the twelve story concrete and glass tower effectively marks Dublin City centre. It has pleasing clean lines and a strong vertical at its leading edge which functions as a clock tower. Coherently topped out, the ‘penthouse’ was originally a rooftop restaurant with fine views of the city centre, but it was quickly commandeered for office space. One of the few attractive buildings of that decade it was designed by Desmond Fitzgerald, also architect for the Dublin Airport terminal building of 1940.

If there’s a song in my heart, or I hear the seagull singing, perhaps this is it. Four Strong Winds is a Canadian folk anthem, written in New York by Ian Tyson in 1961 and recorded with his partner Sylvia Fricker. Neil Young’s version with backing vocals by Nicolette Larson is taken from his 1978 album, Comes a Time. That plaintive vocal takes you into the vast wilderness of Alberta, or anywhere at all, into a glass filled with the aching loss of loneliness, but bubbling with the permanence of hope.

Four strong winds that blow lonely

Seven seas that run high

All those things that don’t change, come what may

But our good times are all gone

And I’m bound for moving on

I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

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