Love Locks on the Ha’penny Bridge: Romantic Tradition or Act of Cultural Vandalism?

Since the turn of the millienium, love locks have become frequent sights around the world. In Dublin, you’ll find them all over the Ha’penny Bridge.

Love Lock on the Ha'Penny Bridge (photo by Sean O'Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

Early stage love lock infestation on the Ha’Penny Bridge (2011). (photo by Sean O’Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

What is a love lock?

Well basically, courting couples write their names or initials on a padlock and attach it to an immovable object, before throwing away the key, and thus (they hope) making their love affair as enduring as the building to which it is now securely attached. (Altogether now: “Awwww!”)

Where did the idea for love locks come from?

The origin of the trend is contested, but it appears to have started in the Far East, in China or Korea, before being spread by travelers — a bit like the bird flu. (And, as far as Dublin City Council are concerned, about as welcome.)

Love Locks by infomatique

Like teenagers, love locks tend to huddle together to seek solace in a world that doesn’t appreciate them.
(Photo credit: infomatique/Flickr via cc license)

Bridges are the favored site for attaching their love locks, probably because of how they symbolically link the two banks of a river — plus, I’m told it’s quite satisfying to hear the splash of the key after you’ve thrown it into the river after locking the padlock onto the bridge structure. Other popular places are at the top of very tall buildings, presumably for the same cathartic sensation when disposing of the key — although authorities stress throwing keys of the tops of skyscrapers in heavily populated cities is not a good idea.

Most European capitals seem to have at least one bridge where the lock love trend has taken hold, and in Dublin it’s the Ha’penny Bridge.  The idea seems to have come to Ireland later than mainland Europe, possibly reflecting the reality that when young Irish people travel to other countries we don’t tend to return.




Visitors can usually find rows and rows of love locks studding the iron work of the Ha’penny bridge like barnacles on a sunken ship. To one set of eyes it’s a beautiful expression of love and youthful hope; to another, it’s a desecration of an historic landmark. Dublin City Council, understandably, consider the growing coral of locks a bit of an eyesore, and removed all the locks from the bridge in 2012. However, days later, the locks began to return.

The "Coral" growth pattern of a mature love lock infestation.  (Credit: MarkGDub via Flickr/cc license)

The “Coral” growth pattern of a mature love lock infestation (2013).
(Credit: MarkGDub via Flickr/cc license)

Perhaps in decades to come the love locks will be as much of a tourist attraction any of the various pieces of street art the Council has commissionned over the years (and certainly more popular among ordinary Dubliners than some…), or perhaps young couples will have moved on, and will be marking their love in other strange or bizarre ways?

 

Notes

If love locks float your boat, you may be interested in this post on fairy trees/wishing trees, the ancient equivalent…

 

 

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6 comments

  1. Mollie Bylett’s avatar

    Thank you for this! I have just been to dublin and photographed the locks but forgot the name of the bridge!!!!

    🙂 happy new year!

    molliebylett.blogspot.co.uk

    xoxo

    1. Rich Rennicks’s avatar

      Glad to help. Happy New Year to you, too, Mollie.

      Were you there for the floods?

    2. Brenda Farrell’s avatar

      Mollie the locks are destroying a 200 year old bridge-not to be encouraged

    3. Daithi’s avatar

      you posted this around the time i had a meeting with the council on this subject . the locks are now removed and will keep being removed as this Bridge is a part of Dublin History and the locks do not show any love for our country . It is illegal to put such items on a public owned Structure and a person if caught can be arrested . I have also spoken to the Gardai (Police) who will arrest anyone who comes to their attention for placing illegally locks on this or any structure . The people who do this are damaging the bridge as rust sets in when the locks rub the paint off and it costs thousands each time to renovate the Bridge . The Bridge belongs to the Irish people and those who engage in the Illegal act of damaging the Bridge are insulting us the Irish people .

      1. Rich Rennicks’s avatar

        Good man yourself. I’ll check up on the progress when I’m down next.

      2. Brenda Farrell’s avatar

        Totally agree Daithi-it’s such a shame that a stupid fad is destroying part of our heritage

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