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River Liffey
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River Liffey

The Liffey (An Life in Irish) is a river in Ireland, which flows through the centre of Dublin. Its major tributaries include the River Dodder, the River Poddle and the River Camac. The river supplies much of Dublin's water, and a range of recreational opportunities.



The river was previously named An Ruirthech, meaning "fast (or strong) runner".[1] The word Liphe (or Life) referred originally to the name of the plain through which the river ran, but eventually came to refer to the river itself.[2] It was also known as the Anna Liffey,[3] possibly from an anglicization of Abhainn na Life, the Irish phrase that translates into English as River Liffey.[4]

Course and system

The Liffey rises in the Liffey Head Bog between Kippure and Tonduff in the Wicklow mountains, forming from many streamlets. It flows for around through counties Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin before entering the Irish Sea at its mouth at the mid-point of Dublin Bay, on a line extending from the Baily lighthouse to the Muglin Rocks.

The river crosses from County Wicklow to County Kildare at Poulaphouca and leaves Kildare for County Dublin at Leixlip. Most of its length is in Kildare.


The Liffey system is a substantial one, including dozens of smaller rivers and streams.

Early tributaries include the Athdown Brook, Shankill River, Ballylow Brook, Brittas River and Woodend Brook, as well as the substantial King's River.

Downstream of Poulaphouca are the Lemonstown Stream, Kilcullen Stream and Pinkeen Stream, followed by the Painestown River (with tributaries including the Morell River), Rye Water (with tributaries including the Lyreen), and the Griffeen River.

Within Dublin are the various Phoenix Park streams on the left bank, interspersed with right bank tributaries such as the Glenaulin Stream and Creosote Stream.

Within the quays area tributaries include the River Camac, possibly Colman's Brook, the Bradoge River, River Poddle, Stein River and the River Dodder, some of which have numerous tributaries of their own.

In earlier times, the River Tolka was also arguably a tributary of the Liffey, or at least shared its mouth, but it now enters Dublin Bay distinctly, some distance to the north.

Dams, reservoirs and falls

There are dams for three ESB hydroelectric power stations along the river, at Poulaphouca, Golden Falls and Leixlip. Major reservoir facilities also exist at Poulaphouca. The Liffey does not feature natural lakes, and has few islands.

Significant falls at Poulaphouca and at Golden Falls were flooded by reservoir construction. There remain areas of rapids, notably as the river approaches Dublin city.


Towns along the river include Ballymore Eustace, Athgarvan, Kilcullen, Newbridge, Caragh, Clane, Celbridge, Leixlip and Lucan before the river reaches the city of Dublin as it approaches its mouth.

Navigation and uses

The River Liffey in Dublin city has been used for many centuries for trade, from the Viking beginnings of the city up to recent times. It is connected to the River Shannon via the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal.

Water supply

Around 60% of the Liffey's flow is abstracted for drinking water, and to supply industry. Much of this makes its way back into the river after purification in wastewater treatment plants. A popular myth is that Liffey water is used to brew Guinness but this is not true as Guinness uses water piped from the Wicklow mountains.

Electricity generation

ESB hydroelectric power stations exist along the river, at Poulaphouca, Golden Falls and Leixlip, in addition to a number of minor private installations.


"Sarah's Bridge on the River Anna Liffey" (1831) Sarah's Bridge is today called Island Bridge. The then-new Wellington Monument is seen on the left of the picture.
A well-known sight on the Liffey up to the 1990s, the Lady Patricia[5] and Miranda Guinness[5] cargo ships were used to export Guinness from the St. James's Gate Brewery.

In recent years, the only regular traffic on the river within the city is the Liffey Voyage water tour bus service, which runs guided tours along the River Liffey through Dublin City centre. Departing from the boardwalk downstream of the Ha'penny Bridge, the Spirit of the Docklands runs under O'Connell Bridge, Butt Bridge and the Talbot Memorial Bridge on a journey downstream, passing the Custom House before turning at the Grand Canal Basin and back up stream. Built by Westers Mekaniska in Sweden, this 50 passenger water taxi, has variable ballast tanks (not unlike a submarine) and an exceptionally low air draught which means that at low tide it can float high, but at high tide it can ride low and still pass smoothly below the Liffey bridges.

Downstream of the East-Link bridge, the river is still mainly used for commercial and ferry traffic, with some recreational use also. High speed trips out the mouth of the Liffey are also available from Sea Safari.[6]

Recreational use

The 2007 Liffey Swim passes the Dublin Boardwalk
The 2007 Liffey Swim passes the Dublin Boardwalk
Upstream from the city, at Chapelizod, the river is used by private, university and Garda rowing clubs.

The Liffey Descent canoeing event, held each year since 1960, covers a course from Straffan to Islandbridge. The Normal Tidal Limit (NTL) of the river is Chapelizod. The Liffey Swim takes place every year in late August or early September between Watling Bridge and The Custom House.

The Liffey is widly used for recreational activities - such as canoeing, fishing, swimming, significant facilities are at Poulaphouca, Kilcullen, Newbridge,where a substantial seven acre Liffey Linear Park has been developed, and other facilities are available further downriver at Leixlip and other towns.



The earliest stone bridge over the Liffey of which there is solid evidence was the Bridge of Dublin (on the site of the current Fr. Mathew Bridge), built by the Dominicans in 1428, which survived well into the 18th century.[7] This bridge with four arches included various buildings such as a chapel, bakehouse and possibly an inn[8] and replaced an earlier wooden bridge (Dubhghalls Bridge) on the same site. Island Bridge (a predecessor of the current bridge) was added in 1577. With the development of commercial Dublin in the 17th century, four new bridges were added between 1670 and 1684: Barrack, or Bloody Bridge, (the forerunner of the current Rory O'More Bridge), Essex Bridge (Grattan Bridge), Ormond Bridge (O'Donovan Rossa Bridge) and Arran Bridge. The oldest bridge still standing is the Mellows Bridge, (originally Queens Bridge) constructed in 1764 on the site of the Arran Bridge, which was destroyed by floods in 1763. The first iron bridge was the elegant Ha'penny Bridge built in 1816. The newest bridge is the Samuel Beckett Bridge opened in December 2009. A suspension bridge, it swivels to allow river traffic to pass. [9][10]

Present day

Ship Jeanie Johnston at River Liffey.
Ship Jeanie Johnston at River Liffey.
Dividing the Northside of Dublin from the Southside, the Liffey is today spanned by numerous bridges, mostly open to vehicular traffic. Notable are the West-Link Bridge on the M50 motorway, the Se n Heuston Bridge and O'Connell Bridge. There are bridges in the city: the Millennium Bridge, the Se n O'Casey Bridge and the Ha'penny Bridge. In December 2009, the new Samuel Beckett Bridge opened. between the Se n O'Casey Bridge and the East Link Bridge, It was designed by Santiago Calatrava Valls, who also designed the James Joyce Bridge that spans the Liffey. The Samuel Beckett Bridge takes both road and pedestrian traffic and in the future it may also take rail traffic.

Crossings further upriver include the Liffey Bridge at Celbridge, "The Bridge at 16" (a 19th century pedestrian suspension bridge at what is now the K Club), and the Leinster Aqueduct - which carries the Grand Canal over the Liffey at Caragh.


The song about Seamus Rafferty refers to the "bowsies on the quay" - However, recent years have seen much development on the quays, with the addition of linear parks, and overhanging boardwalks which give the river banks renewed life.

There are quays on the North bank and the South bank of the Liffey, extending from the weir at Islandbridge to Ringsend bridge over the river Dodder, just before the East Link Toll bridge.

From West to East, the quays on the Northern Bank are: Bridgewater, Wolfe Tone, Sarsfield, Ellis, Arran, Inns, Ormond Upper, Ormond Lower, Bachelors Walk, Eden, Custom House, and North Wall.

From West to East, the quays on the Southern Bank are: Victoria, Usher's Island, Usher's, Merchants, Wood, Essex, Wellington, Crampton, Aston, Burgh, George's, City, Sir John Rogerson's, and Great Britain.


In December 2000 a Bus ireann bus, crossing the Liffey at Butt Bridge, collided with another bus and skidded into the Liffey. There were a few injuries but no one was killed. [11]

In July 2011 a man rescued his pet rabbit from drowning in the river, after it was thrown into the river by another man. The man dived off O'Connell Bridge into the river in front of hundreds of people, and became a celebrity due to the circulation of videos of the rescue on the internet. The man had been homeless on the streets of Dublin for 22 years, and received an honour for his actions,[12][13][14][15] as well as being offered a job at an animal shelter.[16][17][18] The man who threw the rabbit into the river was arrested.[19]

Popular culture references

From Joyce to Radiohead, the Liffey is often referenced in literature and song:

A view upstream from Grattan Bridge, towards the Four Courts (the domed building), with Essex Quay and Wood Quay on the right bank (left of picture) and Upper Ormond Quay on the left bank (right of picture).
A view upstream from Grattan Bridge, towards the Four Courts (the domed building), with Essex Quay and Wood Quay on the right bank (left of picture) and Upper Ormond Quay on the left bank (right of picture).


External links

be: cy:Afon Life da:Liffey de:Liffey es:R o Liffey eu:Liffey ibaia fr:Liffey ga:An Life gl:R o Liffey it:Liffey he: lt:Lif jus lmo:Liffey hu:Liffey (foly ) mr: nl:Liffey nds-nl:Liffey ja: no:Liffey nn:Liffey pl:Liffey pt:Rio Liffey ru: simple:River Liffey sk:Liffey fi:Liffey sv:Liffey tr:Liffey Nehri

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