Cutting the City in Two

The River Liffey runs through the heart of Dublin city and splits the residents into Northsiders or Southsiders. There’s an amusing note about this ‘great divide’ on the Dublin Escape site and it is well worth a read.

Rising from peat bogs in the Wicklow Mountains, the river runs for 132 Km / 82 miles before running into the Irish Sea off Dublin Port. Although 60% of the flow is pulled for drinking water, it is not, as is commonly thought by tourists, used to make Guinness – IMHO, the most revolting beverage on the planet but amazingly many people actually like the stuff. The brewery actually pipes their water supply directly from the Wicklow Mountains, and given the peat content, I would image that it’s the colour of Guinness when it arrives in Dublin! Mind you, same could be said for the Liffey too.

The Liffey was the starting point for the cargo ships used to export Guinness form the St James’s Gate Brewery and for a while, my paternal grandfather (who was a sailor) worked on the crossing from Dublin to Liverpool and back again, a route which took him past his home on the North Wales coast.

I saw this work on the North Quay last year on a building since demolished to make way for new developments. An interesting article about the development of the North Quay in photographs can be read on the Irish Times website.

The street art below is a highly romantic view of the Liffey – on any day I’ve crossed it, I’ve never seen a hint of blue in the grey/brown Guinness-like murkiness.

The Liffey Cuts the City Like a Meandering Blue Vein

The Liffey cuts the City like a meandering blue vein

With typical dry and caustic humour, but based on truth, the river was known locally in earlier decades as the ‘Whiffy Liffey’ and it is this aspect of the river which is referenced in a number of works:

“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’)

And ….

“No man who has faced the Liffey can be appalled by the dirt of another river”

(Iris Murdoch, ‘Under the Net’)

To be fair, the river isn’t all that smelly these days – except when the wind carries from the Irish Sea over the treatment works at Poolbeg and Ringsend. People enjoy canoeing, fishing and swimming (not me) in the river and also taking walks and jogging along the banks. The number of diving birds and seals suggest that there is plenty of marine life living beneath the surface, out of sight, in the depths, in the darkness.

Incidentally, the English name Ringsend comes from the Irish Rinn-Abhann which translates as the end point of the tide.  The Liffey takes its name the plain through which the river ran – over time, the name was attached to the river. It was previously known as An Ruirthech and given that I’ve no idea how to pronounce this, I’m glad the name was changed. However, An Ruirthech means fast/strong runner which is descriptive and very apt.

Any trip to Dublin is not complete without at least one crossing of the (in)famous River Liffey. Personally, I’d skip the Guinness.

[April 2018]
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