Spanning the Liffey from Bachelors Walk to Temple Bar and referred to simply as the ‘Metal Bridge’ by Joyce in Ulysses, the original half penny toll charge earned it an enduring local nickname — Ha’penny Bridge.
However, it was the emotional toll the Covid lockdown had on a friend, originally from Dublin, that made me question why I had really painted it. The prints I presented him with, 'Ha'penny' and 'Liffey Street Lower' really struck home — bringing him close to tears. We talked — he really missed his city and its people.
I had several previous sketches of the bridge, that were never progressed beyond that, but I decided for some reason to paint it during the first Covid lockdown. The scale of the painting at 1m x1m and the challenge to capture the vibrancy of the place kept me totally absorbed and frustrated in equal measures for weeks.
Working in isolation in my studio is part of my daily routine, but another important aspect is my frequent reward ritual for finishing a piece destined for the Sol Gallery in central Dublin. After delivering the painting I would always ‘make a day of it’ with my wife, a son or friend, eating lunch in my favourite spot in Powerscourt Townhouse, then hitting the bookshops.
Featuring such a large group of people amongst a complicated street scene was something very different for me. I can now see it wasn’t about capturing the flow of the iconic arch or the flow of the Liffey, the front on view I had chosen was about being freely among a flow of people — some of the 30,000 locals and visitors who use the ‘Ha’penny’ daily to bridge the divide of the north and south sides of Dublin.
Hopefully it won’t be long before we can bridge the divide and return to normal life — and be among them crossing over The Liffey (‘An Life’ in Irish).