Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Peace Bridge, One Year On

It's just over a year to the day since Derry-Londonderry's Peace Bridge opened. Si's Sights And Sounds muses on the impact of the already iconic structure

A Carnival Of Colours crosses the Peace Bridge, June 2012

Before it had even opened, there were voices dismissing Derry-Londonderry’s Peace Bridge as a waste of time, a white elephant. The price of the bridge was too high (especially in a recession), its purpose (was it for the people, or was it for tourism?) was questionable, the sectarian divide would still be an issue with or without the bridge, and so on. But as a landmark, as a symbol, and possibly more importantly, as a method of transportation, it’s already achieved an iconic, possibly even timeless, status. Though the debate still remains over what a cheaper, less showy foot and cycle bridge might have offered to the public (think something along the lines of Belfast’s Lagan Weir) or how much less congested the city might have become with a third road bridge instead, one cannot doubt the impact that Derry’s newest bridge has had on its population, in more ways than one.

I wasn’t old enough to witness the construction of the Foyle Bridge – which, even almost thirty years after it opened, remains both a terrific feat of engineering and an invaluable link from the Waterside to the Cityside, and vice versa. But, like the Peace Bridge, it’s become “part of the furniture”, to the point where we wonder how we did without it. How hard is it today to picture a single carriageway Crescent Link with no retail park? Developments such as these, over a long period of time, illustrate how far we’ve come as a city – and how far we can still go.

I am not ashamed to admit that when the Peace Bridge opened to the public just over a year ago, I was completely swept up in the occasion. Simply walking across the impressive structure for the first time was absolutely overwhelming. The sights and atmosphere created by the stunning architecture, then never-before-seen views of the Foyle, singing schoolchildren and a carnival of colourful flags made one feel especially fortunate to be there at that moment in time; a feeling only replicated, and fittingly so, when the Peace One Day Concert took place in Derry last week. These are the days we live for in our little City Of Culture; even if it’s only for a brief moment, you think anything is possible.

To this day, I continue to marvel at the structure of the bridge. I continue to appreciate it as a boon for avid walkers and cyclists, as a source of photo opportunities (especially for newlywed couples), for the pleasure it’s given to families looking to introduce their friends and relatives to the bridge for the first time, and for the way it has made both the city centre and St. Columb’s Park more easily accessible. Its conception, completion and impact really is an incredible story, a significant chapter in the long history of Derry-Londonderry. For its status, its usefulness, and for everything else it represents, The Peace Bridge could be, like The Divine Comedy’s indelible “Sunrise” (below), the epitome of light at the end of the tunnel for our little city and the world that lies beyond it.


Róisín said...

I think you've missed your calling as a civil engineer Simon! Two great bridges, and just as you were saying the Peace Bridge was swaying a bit last night, the Foyle Bridge sways at times too. Without getting too geeky, it's the sign of a well constructed bridge :) Great read. Sorry I don't get over here often enough!

Simon Fallaha said...

No worries, miss! Thanks for the comment. Me, I always thought a swaying bridge would make the more tipsy of us feel right at home...