Connecting communities: Gweebarra Bridge

Gweebarra Bridge

The first bridge over the Gweebarra Estuary was built at Doochary in 1786 by William Burton Conyngham (1733-1796). He was one of the biggest landlords in the region and carried out many improvements to local infrastructure. Prior to that, the only way of crossing the Gweebarrow Estuary was by one of the two or three ferry services.

The first written reference to a ferry service across the Gweebarrow Estuary was recorded at the Inquisitions in Derry in 1611, when a John Browne was granted permission "to settle and establish several ferrys or passages including one other ferry at or near Litter Mc Warde in the said Co' of Donegall, over the lough or river of Govbera al' Gothbera in Dallilogh."

William L Micks, the first Secretary of the Congested Districts Board, reporting from the Union of Glenties in 1891 recommended "for the convenience of the people of Lettermacaward, a passage over the Gweebarra, by a work partly a causeway and partly a bridge, would be of the greatest service, as it would afford a ready access to the railway at Glenties, and also to Portnoo where Mr Hammond's steamer discharges." Shortly thereafter, an iron bridge was built, thereby shortening by almost seven miles the journey from Glenties to Dungloe.

Gweebarra Bridge served to transport the people and merchandise of south-west Donegal until in 1950, with the increase in motor traffic, it was deemed too dangerous. The present bridge was built in 1953. It is 600 ft long, and 30 ft wide, and was considered at the time one of the biggest feats of engineering in that part of the county.

Indeed, the lack of a bridge led to valiant efforts on the part of the women of Dungloe as they tried to make their way to the market at Glenties with their knitted goods in the early years of the twentieth century, as described by Glenties author Patrick MacGill in his novel The Rat-Pit (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1999 - Copies available at most branches of Donegal County Library.) MacGill describes how the women waited for low tide in the Gweebarra Estuary before traversing the estuary in great terror, with their knitting held high over their heads and their skirts tucked up as they waded into the icy water.

The sandy area in the middle of the picture shows the location of the ford where people crossed on foot at low tide before the construction of an iron bridge in the late nineteenth century. However this bridge was by no means secure enough to handle the development in modern transport that followed. Indeed such was the dangerous state of the bridge that until the completion of the new bridge in 1953, passengers had to leave the vehicle behind at one end with the driver while they crossed the bridge on foot, and were collected by their driver at the other end.


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