The Original Bunratty Bridge and its importance.
The single-arch stone bridge at Bunratty is the first bridge to be built here, so until 1804, there was no way to cross the O’Garney River at this point. The map commissioned by the Grand Jury, (the predecessors to the County Council) in 1787 clearly shows the absence of a bridge and indeed the absence of a road from Limerick.
Bunratty was originally accessible only by a link road from Sixmilebridge, over the hill to the west of the castle. So Bunratty, even though it was a strategic location and in medieval times the site of a sizable town, was originally almost an island and by the seventeen hundreds, an almost forgotten dead-end place. Before the building of this bridge and the bridge at Rosmanagher in 1784 further up-river, the O’Garney River was busy with barges from the Oil-Mills at Ballintlea near Sixmilebridge, bringing cargo to the large sailing ships moored close-by on the Shannon, and bound for Amsterdam. The main commodities were rape-seed oil and soap, and on their return from Amsterdam the ships frequently brought Dutch bricks.
A new bridge and a new road.
The provision of a bridge by Thomas Studdert at his own expense was to improve the fate of Bunratty village for ever more. The construction of the bridge was completed in 1804 by the master mason, John Crowe. The bridge cost £2,243, a very considerable amount at that time and it operated as a toll bridge for 80 years. Soon afterwards the new main road from Limerick was laid, and immediately Bunratty welcomed a stream of traffic unprecedented in its long existence. As well as providing a convenience for people of the adjoining areas the bridge enabled commercial carriage traffic, which brought trade and tourism. It also enabled a faster transit from the city of Limerick through south Clare along the newly constructed road, and transformed this landscape and its future settlement. From 1804, the enormous castle building became known to millions of passers bye for the first time.
From Toll road to Free Road
The building now occupied by Durty Nellies Pub was the original Turnpike, the toll-keepers house. In fact the pub was known as the Pike until the 1960s. The toll gate hung from a high wall in front of the toll-house and the gate was opened for carriages to pass through at a cost of sixpence, and horses at a cost of one penny. It appears that pedestrians were allowed to cross for free. In 1884, the Grand Jury made a one-off payment to Mr Studdert of €1000, declaring the bridge to be free for everyone to use from then on. This was an occasion of much joy and celebration.
As well as the construction of the bridge, Mr Studdert was responsible for the rebuilding and expansion of the quay; a remnant of the quay wall can still be seen between the original bridge and the modern one built to replace it in 1964.
Samuel Lewis writing in 1837 stated that
“… Mr Studdert constructed a commodious quay which is about to be enlarged; boats of large size can come up to it. Considerable quantities of sea manure are landed here for the supply of the neighbourhood; and turf is brought here from Kilrush.”
The conditions for this trade would have improved with the provision of the bridge and the new road infrastructure. The construction of the bridge and the re-routing of the main road was the catalyst for other developments in the village. A post office was opened here, a coach station was built and a licensed public house established. Bunratty was on the road to success!