The Bridges of Donegal County

Donegal depends on its bridges. Roughly every 500 metres there is a bridge or large culvert which requires maintenance. The bridges vary in size from the likes of the massive Gweebarra Bridge across the Gweebarra Estuary to the elegant arch across the Erne at Ballyshannon, to Lifford Bridge across the Foyle, right down to the many small arches built all around the county by the Congested Districts Board and the Grand Juries between 1850 and the turn of the century.

Seldom however do we hear mention of the handsome, picturesque or beautiful masonry arched bridges that once featured so prominently in older travel guides. Possibly the reason is that our improved roadways lead to more rapid travel, resulting in drivers having to concentrate more on actual driving, with little scope for admiring the landscape. Every year a number of these older bridges is given an overhaul, involving grouting and strengthening the arches, together with repair work, surfacing and underpinning. In addition to the repair works, a number of new bridges are constructed annually, as is the reconstruction of bridges beyond repair or incapable of carrying modern day traffic.

Eske Bridge

Eske Bridge, constructed on the Donegal Town Bypass won an award from the Irish Concrete Society for the best reinforced concrete bridge in 1999.

A fine example of an earlier constructed bridge with continuity today is the Ballyshannon Bridge. Historically, the town of Ballyshannon was an important stronghold for the ruling family of the O'Donnells, with the river Erne forming a strategic frontier between the ruling clans of Connacht and Ulster. The old bridge over the Erne was built pre-1700 and originally consisted of fourteen arches with a tower in the centre.

In this photograph the newy-completed Ballyshannon Bridge stands side-by-side with the old bridge. In 1946 the old bridge was replaced by a single-arched bridge which is a major gateway linking Connacht to Donegal and the west of Ulster. The memorial tablet on the centre of the bridge was erected in 1895 in honour of local poet William Allingham (1828-1889).

The text on the plaque, written by the author reads:

Here once he roved a happy boy
Along the winding banks of Erne
And now, please God, with finer joy
A fairer land his eyes discern.


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