We'll just have to name that bridge when we come to it


IT WOULD be a diversion someday to create an alternative map of the Liffey, featuring all the buildings, sculptures and strange schemes that were once planned to cross it, loom over it, swing past it. The cable car that was supposed to ferry tourists across; Dublin’s tallest building at Heuston; the Docklands’s U2 Tower; Antony Gormley’s lattice giant designed to loiter over its banks, as if it had stopped for a leak.

But they’re mostly gone now. The bombastic ideas. The monuments to ego. At least the plans are gone with the money. The riverscape will remain pretty much in stasis, although the Central Bank will soon set about erasing the greatest monument to the era that currently exists in Dublin: the Anglo headquarters. It’s no Wood Quay, of course, but you could argue that it has its merits as a piece of heritage. Nothing speaks more of a gutted economy than a building without its epidermis.

But the Liffey has not been entirely frozen by the icy finger of debt. A new bridge is coming. Even in the days when you couldn’t see the sun for the cranes, such a thing brought excitement to the city. The day the Samuel Beckett Bridge made its way up the river matched the one, a few years earlier, when the Spire was given its spike, and the citizens of Dublin stared upwards like those massed ranks of extras gaping at the spaceship in Independence Day. Except the resultant light show was somewhat less spectacular.

The bridge is currently announcing itself only through scaffolding and high-vis jackets. But it has already inspired a typically entertaining correspondence on this newspaper’s Letters page about what the new bridge should be called, in a continuation of a habit that stretches well back to this newspaper’s early days.

In 1879 there was a similarly lively discussion in the lead-up to a new bridge (where Butt Bridge is now) at the Custom House. “Gandon Bridge”, after that building’s architect, was among the suggestions. The Irish Times was in favour of its eventual name Beresford Bridge, “in honour of Lord William, who so greatly distinguished himself at the capture of Ulundi”. I’m guessing the modern paper would be less supportive, although these days we really don’t name enough bridges after people involved in the fiery razing of Zulu capitals.

That Letters page contrasts with today’s in a couple of ways: a then customary sign-off of “your obedient servant”, and a lack of suggestions involving wordplay.

So, although several names have been suggested for Dublin’s new Luas bridge – Carson (Lord, not Frank), Brian O’Driscoll, the scientist Ernest Walton — personally, I’ve enjoyed the puns, notably this suggestion: “Sir, Due to the large number of drug dealers and junkies in the Marlborough Street and boardwalks area, should the new bridge be called The Bridge of Highs? Your obedient servant, Declan Roche.” (Okay, maybe he signed off “yours, etc”.)

The Ha’penny Bridge shows a more literal approach to nomenclature (as much as its official name, the Liffey Bridge) but also frees Dubliners from having to name this new bridge after a notable person. But perhaps we could go further.

When Microsoft unveiled its new tablet, Surface, it got me thinking where such names come from. A naming company, it turns out, called Lexicon. And without it, BlackBerry, PowerBook, Pentium and Swiffer – the mop-type thing – would all go by different names.

According to a New Yorker profile last year: “Lexicon’s founder and CEO, David Placek, maintains that the best name brands, like poems, work by compressing into a single euphonious word an array of specific, resonant meanings and associations.” So maybe Dublin could examine that. Not to recognise a person but to showcase the capital as edgy and cool, to attract the world’s most innovative tech companies through a willingness to be as oblique as the hippest brand. By naming its bridge by, let’s say, compressing into one euphonious word an array of specific, resonant meanings and associations. Where the Red and Green mix: “Brown”. No. Where the Luas and the Boardwalk’s drug addicts cross: “Tracks”. Uh-uh.

Or maybe we could do what Ohio and Virginia are planning in the US, which is to sell off naming rights for bridges (as well as toilet rest stops) to the highest bidder. Aviva paid an estimated €40 million for 10 years at Lansdowne Road; Bord Gáis €4.5 million for its theatre deal. A bridge in Dublin’s city centre? It would be worth many times more, and locals would grumble but quickly come up with a nickname anyway. The money could then be put to vital public use in the cash-strapped capital. And it might finally be able to afford that giant coathanger man for the quays after all.

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