We know from archaeology that the early Port of Dublin was located at present day Wood Quay. Gradually, over subsequent centuries, the quays were extended to the east as well as west and assumed their now familiar form on both sides of the Liffey. However this quayside extension wasn’t symmetrical. Taking Wood Quay as “point zero”, the eastward section extends for a full three kilometres to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and North Wall Quay.
In the other direction, however, the extent is more limited. The quays travel for just one kilometre westwards, taking in Merchants Quay, then Ushers Island, Victoria Quay… and that’s it.
To follow the Liffey westward, it’s necessary to take to the water – hardly a practical proposition! – as the public quay abruptly terminates at Heuston Station. From this point onwards, the way to the west presents as an unattractive, heavily-trafficked urban motorway, with only glimpses of the river visible from the bypass at Chapelizod.
This village of Chapelizod has very real significance in terms of the geography of the river. Up to the 13th century, it was possible to navigate right up to here at high tide. Later, the Knights Hospitallers at Kilmainham were granted permission to construct a weir closer to the city at Islandbridge, resulting in the creation of a new high tide mark. From then on Chapelizod went into a decline as it lost its trading status as the Liffey’s limit of navigation.
How appropriate would it be then to privilege this ancient settlement as the destination for a new corridor extending from Heuston Station and linking with the existing riverside walk at Memorial Gardens? What if this new link was incorporated in the planned Liffey Cycle Route? This wouldn’t be that difficult to accomplish, because of the short distance involved and also bearing in mind that virtually all of the real estate to be transited is in public ownership. In fact, to create this new and historic byway along the river, only around 600 metres of new boardwalk is needed to form a permanent link from the car park at Heuston Station to the Trinity College rowing club in Memorial Park.
So let’s progress Chapelizod Quay as a new riverine realm for Dubliners that offers also a pedestrian link, by way of Islandbridge and hence to the sea.
Reg McCabe is a tour guide and local historian and was formerly a business lobbyist. You can follow him on Twitter at @timethemetours
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Words: Reg McCabe
Image: What if Dublin