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Paul Clerkin

a humourous look…..

North-south co-operation took on dramatic new meaning yesterday when Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge reopened, after a refurbishment partly carried out by Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff.

For much of its 185-year existence, the bridge has symbolised the effort to create understanding between the two communities in Dublin, where north and south have been at loggerheads ever since the city was controversially partitioned by the river Liffey.

But as it braced itself to carry pedestrians again, after a lapse of nine months, the much-loved structure returned to work to find it was shouldering a heavy new responsibility, too.

Mr Liam Nellis, chief executive of the cross-Border body InterTradeIreland, confirmed that the refurbishment had turned it into “more than just a bridge”. Thanks to the involvement of Harland and Wolff, a company that “never set foot in the South” until recently, he said, the structure was now a symbol of North-South partnership on the island as a whole.

The bridge looked a bit pale at the news, but this may be due to the off-white paint it has been covered with in a throwback to the original colour scheme.

It also returns to public life at a time when, with the introduction of the euro, it risks being renamed as the 63-cent bridge. Thanks partly to Belfast metal-working skills, however, the north-south structure at least looks well prepared to cope with the expected 30,000 cross-border bodies a day.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, a southsider, set foot in the north at around 11 a.m. yesterday to perform the reopening ceremony on the corner of Liffey Street. Cllr Michael Mulcahy spoke of his hopes that, with the arrival of Luas and the Dublin Port Tunnel, heavy traffic would soon be banished from the quays and the river returned to its rightful position, at the heart of the city.

He could hardly make himself heard over the trucks roaring past towards the docks, a point he acknowledged, but the sentiments were warmly applauded.

Then, while the gardaí halted the traffic, he unveiled a plaque and led a rousing rendition of Molly Malone, at the end of which a well-wisher advised him: “Don’t give up the day job”.

With that, the bridge was opened again to the public. In a gesture to its origins, a group of extras in period dress demanded “ha’penny” tolls from those crossing (pound-shaped ha’pennies preferred, proceeds to charity).

At least the temporary bailey bridge – which would have been christened “the quiver on the river” had it become permanent – will soon be gone. And with features including widened access from the quays, extra lighting, stepped ramps and a slip-resistant deck, the new improved Ha’penny Bridge is well equipped. The final bill for the work was £1.8 million.

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