Derry’s new Peace Bridge is the talk of the town these days but then new crossings across the Foyle always were, writes Ian Cullen.
This June will see the official opening of the latest crossing of the river - the fifth since 1790 - at an estimated cost of £13.5 million.
The impressive foot and cycle bridge has been capturing the imagination of residents and visitors to the city in recent months. On daily basis pedestrians can seen staring in awe as work continues on the structure - this has been especially prevalent since the massive surface sections were laid before Christmas. The next few weeks are expected to see the “final stage of the project take shape” when two enormous land sections are shifted into place and secured at either side of the river, says Graham Construction spokesperson Nuala Griffiths.
In the meantime the employees of the construction company - the firm which also built the Foyle Bridge - are “busy stressing cables” designed to hold the structure up, she adds.
The bridge has been hailed as an iconic structure for the city and will be completed by April, should everything go to plan. However, a major revamp project at the Ebrington parade ground - the bridge’s landing point in the Waterside - is to hold up the opening of the crossing until the summer. As a spokesperson for Ilex - which is responsible for the regeneration of the former 170 year-old British Army barracks - explained: “There’d be little point opening the new bridge onto a building site.”
In pubs, shops, offices, schools and all other levels of Derry society - across the political spectrum - there’s been great a great deal of talk about the new bridge. For the most part, it would appear that the talk has been positive and fuelled by excitement.
Of course naysayers have been giving their tuppence worth. There are those who no more than a couple of years ago said ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ while some now say the bridge will add nothing to the city and that the money should be spent on ‘more important stuff’. But then there were those who had the same philosophy about the Foyle Bridge in the late 1970s and early 1980s - an artery that has saved 21th century Derry from everlasting gridlock.
No doubt there was great fanfare at the opening of the first crossing - known as the Wooden Bridge - on November 23, 1790. And as the excitement grows in the countdown to the big opening day this June, the organisers are sure to be expecting a massive turnout of Derry folk and others eager to stretch their legs on the city’s fancy new icon.