The Liffey (An Life in Irish) is a river, which flows through the centre of Dublin. Its major tributaries include the River Dodder, the River Poddle and the River Camac. The river supplies much of Dublin's water, and a range of recreational opportunities.
The river was previously named An Ruirthech, meaning "fast (or strong) runner". The word Liphe (or Life) referred originally to the name of the plain through which the river ran, but eventually came to refer to the river itself. It was also known as the Anna Liffey, possibly from an anglicization of Abhainn na Life, the Irish phrase that translates into English as River Liffey.
Course and system:
The Liffey rises in the Liffey Head Bog between Kippure and Tonduff in the Wicklow mountains, forming from many streamlets. It flows for around 125 km (78 mi) through counties Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin before entering the Irish Sea at its mouth at the mid-point of Dublin Bay, on a line extending from the Baily lighthouse to the Muglin Rocks.
The river crosses from County Wicklow to County Kildare at Poulaphouca and leaves Kildare for County Dublin at Leixlip. Most of its length is in Kildare.
The Liffey is a substantial system, including dozens of rivers and streams.
Early tributaries of the Liffey include the Ballydonnell Brook, the Shankill River, Brittas River and Woodend Brook, as well as the substantial King's River.
Downstream of Poulaphouca are the Lemonstown Stream, Kilcullen Stream, Mill Stream and Pinkeen Stream, followed by the Painestown River (with tributaries including the Morell River), Rye Water (with tributaries including the Lyreen), Grifeen.
Within Dublin are the many Phoenix Park streams on the left bank, interspersed with right bank tributaries such as the Glenaulin Stream, Creosote Stream and Gallanstown Stream.
Within the quays area tributaries include the River Camac, Colman's Brook, the Bradoge River, River Poddle, Stein River and the River Dodder, many of which have numerous tributaries of their own.
In earlier times, the River Tolka was also arguably a tributary of the Liffey, or at least shared its mouth, but it now enters Dublin Bay distinctly, some distance to the north.
Dams, reservoirs and falls:
There are dams for three ESB hydroelectric power stations along the river, at Poulaphouca, Golden Falls and Leixlip. Major reservoir facilities also exist at Poulaphouca. The Liffey does not feature natural lakes, and has few islands.
Significant falls at Poulaphouca and at Golden Falls were flooded by reservoir construction. There remain areas of rapids, notably as the river approaches Dublin city.
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:
The River Liffey in Dublin city has been used for many centuries for trade, from the Viking beginnings of the city up to recent times. It is connected to the River Shannon via the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal.
Around 60% of the Liffey's flow is abstracted for drinking water, and to supply industry. Much of this makes its way back into the river after purification in wastewater treatment plants.
ESB hydroelectric power stations exist along the river, at Poulaphouca, Golden Falls and Leixlip, in addition to a number of minor private installations.
A well-known sight on the Liffey up to the 1990s, the Lady Patricia and Miranda Guinness cargo ships were used to export Guinness from the St. James's Gate Brewery.
In recent years, the only regular traffic on the river within the city is the Liffey Voyage water tour bus service, which runs guided tours along the River Liffey through Dublin City centre. Departing from the boardwalk downstream of the Ha'penny Bridge, the Spirit of the Docklands runs under O'Connell Bridge, Butt Bridge and the Talbot Memorial Bridge on a journey downstream, passing the Custom House before turning at the Grand Canal Basin and back up stream. Built by Westers Mekaniska in Sweden, this 50 passenger water taxi, has variable ballast tanks (not unlike a submarine) and an exceptionally low air draught which means that at low tide it can float high, but at high tide it can ride low and still pass smoothly below the Liffey bridges.
Downstream of the East-Link bridge, the river is still mainly used for commercial and ferry traffic, with some recreational use also. High speed trips out the mouth of the Liffey are also available from Sea Safari.
Upstream from the city, at Chapelizod, the river is used by private, university and Garda rowing clubs. The Liffey Descent canoeing event, held each year since 1960, covers a 27 km (17 mi) course from Straffan to Islandbridge. The Normal Tidal Limit (NTL) of the river is Chapelizod. The Liffey Swim takes place every year in late August or early September between Watling Bridge and The Custom House.
Recreational use is also significant at Poulaphouca, and also occurs at Leixlip, Newbridge, Kilcullen and other towns.
The earliest stone bridge over the Liffey of which there is solid evidence was the Bridge of Dublin (on the site of the current Fr. Mathew Bridge), built by the Dominicans in 1428, which survived well into the 18th century. This bridge with four arches included various buildings such as a chapel, bakehouse and possibly an inn and replaced an earlier wooden bridge (Dubhghalls Bridge) on the same site. Island Bridge (a predecessor of the current bridge) was added in 1577. With the development of commercial Dublin in the 17th century, four new bridges were added between 1670 and 1684: Barrack, or Bloody Bridge, (the forerunner of the current 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, (originally Queens Bridge) constructed in 1764 on the site of the Arran Bridge, which was destroyed by floods in 1763. The first iron bridge was the elegant Ha'penny Bridge built in 1816.
Dividing the Northside of Dublin from the Southside, the Liffey is today spanned by numerous bridges, mostly open to vehicular traffic. Notable are the West-Link Bridge on the M50 motorway, the SeŠn Heuston Bridge and O'Connell Bridge. There are 3 foot bridges in the city: the Millennium Bridge, the SeŠn O'Casey Bridge and the Ha'penny Bridge. In December 2009, the new Samuel Beckett Bridge opened. between the SeŠn O'Casey Bridge and the East Link Bridge, It was designed by Santiago Calatrava Valls, who also designed the James Joyce Bridge that spans the Liffey. The Samuel Beckett Bridge takes both road and pedestrian traffic and in the future it may also take rail traffic.
Crossings further upriver include the Liffey Bridge at Celbridge, "The Bridge at 16" (a 19th century pedestrian suspension bridge at what is now the K Club), and the Leinster Aqueduct - which carries the Grand Canal over the Liffey at Caragh.
The song about Seamus Rafferty refers to the "bowsies on the quay" - However, recent years have seen much development on the quays, with the addition of linear parks, and overhanging boardwalks which give the river banks renewed life.
There are quays on the North bank and the South bank of the Liffey, extending from the weir at Islandbridge to Ringsend bridge over the river Dodder, just before the East Link Toll bridge.
From West to East, the quays on the Northern Bank are: Bridgewater, Wolfe Tone, Sarsfield, Ellis, Arran, Inns, Ormond Upper, Ormond Lower, Bachelors Walk, Eden, Custom House, and North Wall.
From West to East, the quays on the Southern Bank are: Victoria, Usher's Island, Usher's, Merchants, Wood, Essex, Wellington, Crampton, Aston, Burgh, George's, City, Sir John Rogerson's, and Great Britain.
Bus …ireann Incident:
In 2005 a Bus …ireann bus crossing the River Liffey collided with another bus and skidded over the side of the bridge into the Liffey. There were a few injuries but no one was killed.
Popular culture references:
From Joyce to Radiohead, the Liffey is often referenced 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."