Luke Kelly Bridge
Luke Kelly Bridge

The Bridge with no Past? Luke Kelly Bridge


Luke Kelly Bridge (formerly Ballybough Bridge) may have been the site of the Battle of Clontarf. 

Other than this factoid, as speculative as it is, I cannot find any other source of history for this bridge. Someone body must know something. 

In 1985, Ballybough Bridge was renamed as Luke Kelly Bridge and small group of people came to the opening. According to one blog Cottageology, the bridge used to mark the administrative boundary of the city, the site of a gallows, and a good place to hide smuggled goods. 

Luke Kelly Bridge

Even today it lends to a feeling of being murky. In the past it is speculated that it was a dangerous area to enter. We can see from the map below from the OSI Geohive that the bridge was located next to what was a kind of swamp between the bridge and also the sea. It cannot have been a pretty area. 

Luke Kelly Bridge 1840
Luke Kelly Bridge approx 1840

The area looks quite different today. Not only is the “swampy” area reclaimed, so too is the sea further eastwards past that bridge I have written about before – Annesley Bridge

We can see that that the marshy area where the Tolka once flowed overland has become Fairview Park

Luke Kelly Bridge 2020
Luke Kelly Bridge 2020

We get a sense of that swampy look by just peering over the bridge in 2020. 

Luke Kelly Bridge – Mud Island

Luke Kelly was a singer and political activist best known for his involvement with the band the Dubliners. He was only 43 years old when he died in 1984. 

Renaming of he Bridge 1985

At the renaming of the bridge were two future Taoiseachs, and one future President (Charles Haughey – who had already been Taoiseach once, Bertie Ahern, and Michael D O’Higgins)

Luke Kelly – singer from folk and ballad band the Dubliners

Today the bridge is really only known for a lot of traffic, a petrol station, lots of billboards. and also a stagnant view of the Tolka River.

Luke Kelly Bridge

Though perhaps in another way it is a place where Dublin is at its most authentic in relation to what it looked like in the past. 

Luke Kelly Bridge – Mud Island Ballybough Dublin

From what we can see, including the maps, there is no doubt that Luke Kelly/Ballybough Bridge has a past. But perhaps this is a past which has gone deliberately unrecorded. The much fancier Annesley Bridge is closer to the heart of a wealthier Clontarf, whereas Ballybough could be avoided and left unspoken. 

PS – No mention of Luke Kelly here, but I later discovered this entry in an archaeological survey done on behalf of a potential fuel line project:

The present bridge occupies the site of an earlier one constructed over the River Tolka at Ballybough in the beginning of the 14th century. It was later carried away by a flood. At the end of the 15th century the City Fathers rode the Franchises of Dublin and crossed Ballybough Bridge. The Civil Survey of 1654-56 also mentions a bridge at Ballybough. D’Alton describes an ancient bridge of five rude, unornamented
arches where the river empties to the sea (D’Alton 1976, 28 2nd ed.). The present bridge is of modern construction.  There is a tradition that the Battle of Clontarf or the “Battle of the Fishing Weir of Clontarf” took place at a fishing weir approximately on the site of Ballybough Bridge. It was reputedly fashioned from stakes and wattle. There is no visible surface trace.

PS2 – I have since discovered the following information

According to James Wren the first bridge was erected at Ballybough in 1313 by the the Provost or Mayor of Dublin John le Decer. This bridge ultimately was knocked over in a storm, but later rebuilt and replaced in the 15th Century by a stong stone bridge. This bridge of five arches was mentioned in a report of the area in 1488, and survived as Dublin’s oldest bridge until 1838 when it was replaced by the current bridge. In 1534, during the rebellion of Silken Thomas, there was a battle between the Geraldines and the English in which many of the latter, who had just landed in Clontarf, were killed.

Read more

Book: Mud island : a history of Ballybough / edited by Noelle Dowling and Aran O’Reilly ; produced by The Allen Library FAS Project ; foreword by Dr Tom O’Dwyer, chairperson The Heritage Council

Wren, James. “From Ballybough to Scurlogue’s Bridge.” Dublin Historical Record, vol. 37, no. 1, 1983, pp. 14–29. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Apr. 2020.

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