And vista of a different kind...
August 10th, 1859: A modest proposal to keep the dismal Liffey swamp out of sight
The stench of the River Liffey was a regular feature of summer in Dublin until comparatively recent times. In its first summer in existence in 1859, The Irish Times described what it was like then and offered a modest proposal to solve the problems:
TEN MILES from the city, Anna Liffey flows through the richest and most tranquil scenery in Ireland. Now it lies a sheet of silver, under drooping trees, undisturbed and smooth as a mirror, except when stirred by the sudden splash of the trout, the leap of the salmon, or the wake of the kingfisher skimming along the surface to its nest.
Now it expands into goodly reaches plashing along the inland bays of gravel; and now dashes its foam over milldams and salmon wiers, sending a column of spray upwards to dance in the sunbeams. No poet ever yet sang of a river flowing through a town. The emblems of all that is bright,
clear and tranquil in life are taken from the open fields under green trees. No one, to look up the Anna Liffey from Essex Bridge , would think she had ever been beautiful, or that so hideous an age had succeeded to so attractive a youth.
Every sewer in the city empties its grey or brackish stream of defilement into the river. The white scum settles in thick lines on either side of the mud and sludge. The river itself is strong-smelling and inky, charged with every species of animate or inanimate impurity. Down the stream are carried carcases of domestic animals until they reach the returning tideway; then they are borne backwards slowly, knocking about among the barges, sailing heavily under archways, until at last a burst of rain swells the river, and, carrying away these bloated masses of corruption, lands them at last upon the Bull or the bathing sheds of Clontarf. For 12 hours out of the 24 a large portion of the bottom of the Liffey is exposed. The sun plays upon the festering mass by day; the malaria hangs about it like a cloud by night. It is black, noisome, pestilential; more like a gigantic sewer than that sparkling river which glitters among the trees 10 miles away. Every summer sends abroad the fever-laded breath of the river; every summer our corporate magnates meet and solemnly discuss the evil and the remedy. All sorts of proposals are made, but never a one accepted. Yet, year by year, this river of concentrated sewage is becoming more fetid and more deadly . . .
If our energetic corporation is alarmed at an expenditure of Â£40,000 to purify and beautify our city, cannot something be done? We have the noblest line of quays of any city in Europe. Can we not enclose something within them better than a polluted mass of putrefying matter? A very simple plan, we think, would rend the quays a favourite and
pleasant promenade for our citizens, until the corporation screws up courage to spend this Â£40,000. What is to prevent our erecting three strong flood gates at Carlisle Bridge , under the three arches? By these the fresh tidal water could be kept in at half ebb, until the succeeding half flow. The river would always appear full, and not a particle of the dismal swamp be uncovered. The occasional opening of these gates at low tide would flush the river, and carry down all impurities. We do not see anything against this plan but its simplicity and cheapness. These, we know, are formidable objections in the eyes of the corporation who, having no bowels, have we suppose, no noses. We venture to say that five weeks’ work and Â£500 would free our city from a standing disgrace, and our people from danger. What will our worthy Aldermen say to this?
Â© The Irish Times