Anna Liffey

Once upon a itme there was a river. It was called the Liffey, or An Life, or Anna Livia Plurabelle.
They say that the Barrow, the Nore and the Suir are three sisters. The inteniton is poeitcal,
misguidedly. Siblings don’t speak delicately to each other, they argue. Rivers don’t babble or sing,
they run. They run hither and thither all over the centre of Ireland, round-tower rivers with scores of
Ballys and Kills on their backs. Looking at a map, one river appears to curl downwards in the East of
the country, almost unassuming in comparison. This is The Liffey, Ireland’s only Martello-tower river.
On its banks people spoke Norse and Irish, then English, and now too many languages to name.
For a house, a river is water. For a city, a river is trade. On the Liffey’s quays stands the Customs
House, built so the Crown could watch the comings and goings of ships and goods. Any merchant
who stepped through its doors was watched also by eyes of Portland stone: Edward Smyth’s
neoclassical “river god” sculptures, posted above the House’s doorways. There are sixteen of these
faces, each carved to represent one of Ireland’s main rivers and the lands it runs through. Thus the
Boyne has a crown of wheat, the Barrow a sheepskin hat. One face stands out amongst these
bearded Olympians: Anna Livia, the only river depicted as a woman.
The Liffey ifnds its feet in the bogs of the Wicklow Mountains, before running through Kildare and
ifnally coming to rest in Dublin. Here are her children, Poddle and Dodder, named like precocious
toddlers. The Tolka stands apart, digniifed as it saunters past the one million populaiton of Glasnevin
Cemetery and through the Botanic Gardens. The Tolka meets the Irish Sea independently, just north
of where the Liffey does, in an estuary that was pocked by oysters and picked at by seabirds.
Humans aren’t the only ones attracted to rivers.
The Liffey has inspired writers who have inspired Dubliners. Now the Liffey’s bridges bear their
names. Samuel Beckett is the biggest and most beauitful, rising harp-like near the Liffey’s mouth.
Like so much of Dublin it is a space for cars ifrst, and walkers have to wait for Godot or the Green
Man. Seán O’Casey zigzags by Beckett’s side, a bridge for pedestrians only, jostling up and down
disconceritngly with the footsteps. Upriver, James Joyce stretches from Usher’s Island in a white
bridge shaped like an open book. His characters in “The Dead” would walk it, if the story took place
today. For a country, a river is a story. Words and water, stories build our ciites as much as stone and
Once upon a itme there was a city. It was called Dublin, or Baile Átha Cliath, dear and dirty and a
thousand things besides.