Love Actually?

This Beta Project will look at the issue of love locks on the Ha’Penny Bridge (and neighbouring bridges and Boardwalk).

Damage to the Ha'Penny Bridge 2

If commenting on social media please add #LoveLocksBeta to help us follow what people think of the idea, and all feedback and suggestions!

Beta Project Stage A – Awareness (of issue / opportunity)

Couples (mainly tourists) are attaching “Love Locks” onto the Ha’Penny Bridge.

The “Love Lock” is basically a padlock that is inscribed with the names/initials of the couple which is then attached to the bridge and the key is thrown into the river Liffey to symbolise unbreakable love. The trend of attaching Love Locks to bridges is popular world-wide so it is likely that this issue will continue for the foreseeable future.

While it is done with the best of intentions (love!) the steel padlocks are damaging the cast iron on the bridge, there are potential dangers due to the people placing the locks on the electric cables on the bridge, the locks could potentially fall onto passers by and onto boats on the Liffey.

Beta Project Stage B – Baseline (situation today)

The Ha’Penny Bridge is a protected structure, and notes…

The Ha’penny Bridge is Dublin’s oldest pedestrian crossing over the River Liffey and is one of the earliest cast-iron structures of its kind [in the world].

The bridge was renovated in 2001 when extensive work was carried out by Irishenco and subcontractor Harland and Wolfe to repair & renew the cast iron arches and railings. Conservation principles required that as much as possible of the original fabric of the bridge be retained. 85% of the original cast iron was re-used.

Dublin City Council is committed to protecting the Heritage of the City and cannot allow it to become socially permissible for people to place padlocks on a historic structure. The Ha’Penny Bridge is also one of Dublin’s most famous landmarks and has a huge tourism value (culturally and financially) to the city.

30,000 people also cross it each day as the super outlines…

When the Ha’penny Bridge first opened, a mere 450 pairs of feet daily walked this way. Today an average of 30,000 people cross each day!

Damage to the Ha'Penny Bridge(You can clearly see the damage being caused in this fantastic photo by Aaron McAllorum.)

The love locks are causing five types of damage to the bridge:

  1. The locks are made from steel and the bridge is made from cast iron. Bi-metal corrosion occurs when 2 different types of metals rub destructively over each.
  2. Increase in the amount of graffiti on the bridge due to the love locks.
  3. Locks swinging (when people add a new lock, when people lift them to read them, or simply being blown in the wind) and hitting the metalwork, chipping the paintwork and causing further damage and rusting.
  4. The weight of locks hanging off is inevitably going to cause some of the decorative parts of the bridge to be lost over time (due to excessive strain and need for over cleaning and repair), losing some of our historic city fabric.
  5. Removing locks requires the use of a bolt cutters or an angle grider with a special blade. It’s often impossible to avoid damaging the bridge whilst removing particular types locks or at certain locations.

There are also potential health and safety issues:

  1. Locks could potentially fall onto passers by and onto boats in the Liffey.
  2. People are hanging the locks onto the electric cables on the bridge. This is potentially very dangerous and in March 2014 the Public Lighting Department stated that the lights were not working on the bridge as a result of a cable being cut – as a result of locks being placed on the cabling. In order to rectify the problem the bridge will have to be closed off possibly overnight at some stage.
  3. Health & safety risk for City Council staff that have to remove the locks using bolt cutters. In the past 18months Dublin City Council has engaged private contractors to remove the locks.

DCC staff on HaPenny Bridge

There is also a cost issue:

  1. To date 300 kgs of locks (enough to fill 4 wheelbarrows full) have been removed. At the moment this issue costs Dublin City Council about €2500 + 6 days work (removing locks and writing) every 18 months.
  2. However the bigger cost is that the bridge will now require repainting as a result of this issue. Initial indications are that the cost of this work including preparation work, undercoating and painting, may be in the region of €25,000.
  3. If this issue isn’t solved, it’s possible that the bridge will require repainting every 2 years or so. (A total cost of €12,000 + staff time each year.)

The issue is also spreading to other bridges including the Millennium Bridge, the brand-new Rosie Hackett Bridge, and also on the Boardwalk balustrade.

Boardwalk Love Locks

The locks also tend to ‘grow’ on the bridge according to the following:

  1. Large locks are placed on the bridge in order to provide a ‘seed lock’ for others to grab onto as most locks actually cannot fit on the bars of the bridge.
    (We’ve also heard that the people begging on the bridge sometime put the big locks there to attract tourists – which they sit close to, hoping to get more money.)
  2. If there is a large number of locks, the speed at which new locks appear seems to increase two or three fold.
    (So a bridge without locks, tends not to have many added to it.)
  3. The vast majority of people putting locks on the bridge appear to be tourists, and are inspired upon seeing the large numbers of locks already there.
    (So numbers tend to hugely increase around St. Patrick’s Day for example.)

tourists putting on a new locktourists looking at locks

Beta Project Stage C – Creative (solutions)

We’re going to explore how to better solve the ongoing issue of love locks on the Ha’Penny Bridge and surrounds.

As this is exploring a local issue/opportunity, and is looking at local place/people/politics, we’ll explore it as a Beta Project micro.

Thinking along these lines (the usual Beta Project approach)…

  1. Reduce Friction
    • Let’s see if there’s a better way to remove locks on a regular, ongoing basis.
    • We’re going to look at providing somewhere else for people to put their love locks immediately in the vicinity of the bridge.
  2. Carrots
    • Is there a way to nudge or encourage people to naturally do ‘the right thing’.
  3. Sticks
    • Only as a last resort consider warning signs, fines, CCTV, etc.

Some possible ‘friction’ solutions…

Removing locks on an ongoing basis

We’re teaming up with TOG Dublin, a members club which describes itself as…

“A shared space where members have a place to be creative and work on their projects in an environment that is both inspiring and supportive of both new and old technologies.”

They’ve a lock-picking group and already have been removing love locks from the Ha’Penny Bridge (you can follow it on Twitter as LoveLockNoMore) and they’re going to now remove locks on a formalised and regular, ongoing basis.

  • The aim is to keep the number of love locks as low as possible to avoid the current “well if they’ve done it, it must be OK for me to” scenario.
  • TOG members are happy to do it as a way of putting what they’ve learned to a practical use.
  • They’re also happy to do it for free, and so it saves Dublin City Council (ie taxpayers) an ongoing cost.

Dublin City Council teaming up with lock pickers? Isn’t that…well…just encouraging nefarious types??!

Seán Nicholls of TOG puts it very well…

Lock picking is no more nefarious than archery as a sport. Yes indeed once taught, someone could take that skill and apply it illegally, same as with any skill. But the reality of the situation is that lock picking is not something which is a real tool to be used for nefarious purposes. It is easier, in many ways, to steal something by breaking a lock or by using bolt cutters or by breaking through a door or a window than spending months to learn how to pick locks.

What we teach in the lock picking group is an understanding of physical security in the same way that classes on computer hacking is not about how to hack into computers but how to develop a respect and understanding for how to protect yourself.

We teach people that cheap locks are really easy to break, and really easy to pick and that if you want to be secure, you need to understand that a lock is, at best, a visual deterrent. If you want to protect yourself you need strong doors, a good alarm system and vigilant neighbours.

In any case, the reality of the situation is that these locks are already being removed by people with these skills. We would not be organising an event to teach people these skills on the day, it would be a gathering of people who already know how to remove locks.

So the question is not about supporting people in learning how to pick locks, but empowering people who already have this skill to put it to some civic use – to empower people to help the city they live in and love, to keep it clean and keep our landmarks for another 100+ years.

You can also hear Séan Nicholls (the organiser of TOG’s lockpicking group) talking to Ray D’Arcy on Today FM, and he explains the background to the group’s lockpicking class.
Listen here from minute 15:00 to minute 25:00.

We met with Seán to discuss the idea, and he also demonstrated removing locks for us.

Seán Eimear KevinSean Demo of lock picking

Seán also suggested the we could place large locks on the bridge – for which we own the keys. We’d use special locks that we know wouldn’t damage the bridge, and in stronger locations. It would reduce the damage to the bridge immediately and it would enable us to remove high-volumes of locks much faster.

Seán also had this suggestion…

[We could] emulate the works of Toool in the US which has worked with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and in New York bridges and others. In those cases, a group is organised of lock pickers to work on the bridge at a specific day – as an event in and of itself.

It could be useful to close the Ha’Penny Bridge once a year for a full clean-off of all locks if TOG’s regular pickings can’t keep up, or if removing some locks will require an empty bridge and equipment (ladders etc). If so, perhaps April would be a good time – after Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day when the volume will likely increase, but before the summer season with the increase in tourists. We’ll look at this at a later date – once we can better see whether it’ll be required.

Dublin City Council staff member, Derek, also had this suggestion…

[It might be possible to] use a light mesh across the bridge to stop locks been to the actual bridge that if they need to be removed they could be removed in one go, and other was to put small structures up that the locks could be applied and could be used as attractions around the city for tourists.

Providing people with somewhere else to put their love lock.

Here’s an example of a ‘Love Tree’ in Russia

Love Lock Tree

Or Ciara sent us the below info on what she saw whilst on hols in London…thanks Ciara!

London - LOVE 1London - LOVE 2

I was in London in February and saw the British Heart Foundation Love Installations in Covent Garden. For a small amount, people could buy a love lock and then attach it to one of the sculptures.

I know that there has been an increase in the number of love locks attached to the Ha’Penny Bridge. I think it would be a good idea to provide an alternative and encourage people to use that instead.

My idea is to commission a metal statue of a rainbow and install it on Grattan Bridge. It would be designed to accommodate love locks and would be promoted as such. Signs could be installed on the footpath at either end of the Ha’Penny Bridge directing people to it.

The rainbow would tie in with DCC’s vote in favour of gay marriage and the location is near the city’s main gay bars, and the DCC offices. It would also be passed by most tour buses and a huge number of visitors entering the city from the West.

The benefits could include:

  • Reduced damage to the Ha’Penny Bridge.
  • A new tourist attraction which would draw people further down the Quays.
  • A strong statement of inclusion and support for equality.
  • Improved international recognition of Dublin as an LGBTQ-friendly location and destination.
  • Positive publicity for the city e.g. a Twitter/Instagram tag could be created to encourage people to share photos of themselves and their partner with the statue.
  • Opportunity for a competition to design the statue, giving exposure to an artist.
  • Business opportunity for local businesses to sell love locks.
  • Opportunity for charities to sell special love locks to raise money for various causes.

Some possible ‘carrot’ solutions…

  • Medium term, there may be a way to link with Anna Doran‘s ‘Lovers Lane’ which is part of a “Love Dublin Lanes” project (led by Dublin City Council and in association with the Temple Bar Company).
  • Longer term, a “Valentines District” is currently being examined by Dublin City Council (the remains of St.Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, are in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church), and linking in with this may be a natural fit.
  • An American couple living in Paris have also just begun an experiment to encourage people to move away from using love locks entirely and instead take selfies with the hashtag #lovewithoutlocks. We’ll keep an eye on that to see how that goes!
  • From City Council staff member Eimear…

The padlocks on the Ha’Penny Bridge are various weights and sizes and cost approximately €15 to purchase (this does not include engraving). If a designated “Love Lock” area could be incorporated into the Valentines District it might be worthwhile examining the possibility of designing a “love lock/s” that is/are uniquely Irish, that is light in weight , that do not need to be opened with a key and that could be purchased and engraved in the Valentines District

There would be administrative work associated with this but if this was possible the money raised could be used to maintain the designated “Love Lock” area, the Valentines District, a local charity, e.g. fund a Valentines Ball etc. Alternatively the “love locks” could be sold from a vending machine with lists the addresses of engravers on the front of it or alternatively have an engraving machine located on site. (Similar to engraving machines in stores in New York etc).

Dublin City Council could do a call out for ideas for the Irish Love Lock design. The love locks do not necessarily need to be padlocks – it could be a new concept for the original idea of love locks. Could perhaps have a number of designs/colours that would allow people more choice and would make the “Love Lock” area look more unique and colourful.

[A love lock tree] was previously proposed by Dublin City Council’s Arts Office and the South East Area Public Domain but no suitable location was found.

Beta Project Stage D – Decide (on which solutions to prioritize)

We’ll be adopting this approach…

  1. Reduce ‘friction’
  2. Use ‘carrots’
  3. Use ‘sticks

So first up is lock-picking and an alternative structure for people to put their locks onto.

The same as ALL Beta Projects, we’ll also be thinking along these steps…

  1. Is it a good idea?
  2. If so, what’s the best way? (How should it be done / is there a suitable business model / who should do it, and so on.)
  3. How should / what Dublin City Council practices need to change to support this?

Beta Project Stage E – Effect, Evolve, Evaluate

We’ve put up the usual signs up to signify that this is a Beta Project (ie it’s a trial and shouldn’t be considered as Dublin City Council corporate policy)  and to actively look for people’s feedback…

Street Signage - LoveLocksBeta

…and here’s a tourist reading one of those signs…

tourist reading sign - cropped

TOG members will be removing locks fortnightly from the Ha’Penny Bridge and they already started this week…

photo 1photo 2

Regarding having an alternative nearby structure for people to use instead, do you have any suggestions as to what it could be?

Where might we put such a structure? We’re thinking that it could be temporary and replaced with a new one once it’s ‘full’. Three possible, nearby, locations could be…

  • Grattan Bridge (Capel Street Bridge)?
  • On the Northside of the Ha’Penny Bridge on Liffey Street near the ‘Hags with the Bags’ sculpture?
  • On the Southside of the Ha’Penny Bridge (and through the archway) on Temple Bar Square?

If you’ve any suggestions, please send us an email to!

We’ll update this section as soon as we’ve further news on the other aspects of this project!

Beta Project Stage F – Formalise

This stage has not been reached yet, and we’ll update it once we do.

You can follow the progress of all Beta Projects here. Kanban Thumbnail

About Dublin City Council beta

Dublin City Council are trying a new method called DCC Beta Projects...your input, then quick trials 'on the street', then your feedback! We'd LOVE your help!
This entry was posted in Beta Project micro, Eimear, General Thoughts & Future Betas, Public Realm, Shane and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Love Actually?

  1. David says:

    Some good ideas there. But since it’s a superstitious gesture, I suggest removing the locks and having them and the associated relationships cursed in a dark, degrading ceremony that is uploaded to YouTube. When that goes viral future couples won’t want to risk it.

  2. steve white says:

    who is engraving these locks

  3. Dubliner says:

    an ad hoc structure placed next to Lovers lane or next to the the Carmelite church seems a very good idea.

  4. Evening Herald Article 07/08/14

    “Council to remove love locks from the Ha’penny Bridge”


    €1,200 spent cutting ‘love locks’ off the Ha’penny Bridge

    Ha’penny Bridge ‘love locks’ facing break-up

    Council’s key decision to remove ‘Love Padlocks’

  6. “Meet the hackers’ group tackling the Ha’penny Bridge’s ‘love’ problem.” 13/07/14

  7. Ronan Kelly of RTÉ’s Curious Ear featured the Lock Picking group on RTÉ Radio 1:

  8. Niall says:

    The locks are litter why don’t the DCC staff who empty bins and sweep streets in the area remove the locks routinely as they remove any other piece of litter. The locks should never accumulate because they should be removed within hours of being put up by DCC staff with a bolt cutters.

  9. Matt Ryken says:

    We’ve created a website specifically designed to celebrate love with digital love locks. The website is called The Love Lock Site and can be found at Digital love locks are locked to the website and have additional benefits over their physical counterparts in that they don’t rust, you can add a picture, they last forever, and you can come back year after year to reminisce no matter where in the world you are. We would love to hear what you think of the website and if you think there is a way we can help become part of the love lock solution.

  10. Susanne Morgan says:

    What about the Council sourcing lightweight (non-metal) locks and selling them (at a profit) at designated points and letting them be hung up. Then, if you want, take them all down again (perhaps at Valentine’s Day) and display them all in a huge big (heart-shaped?) container for a while – then recycle. If you want to, you could have a draw of 1 lock (if they contain email or twitter address) and invite that couple to re-visit Dublin for a weekend.

  11. Diarmuid says:

    This is great. I think having alternatives makes complete sense. The Grattan Bridge rainbow sounds good, but why not really turn it about and have a permanent structure near Valentines relics? A heart themed sculpture/structure could be designed to unlock in several places to slip locks off when needed. Or DCC could commission a new sculpture when the first one becomes overloaded. Residents then get something new to look at, tourists would be happy and guidebooks would surely latch onto the Valentine connection.

    • Thanks Diarmuid, that sounds very much like our thinking also!

      The temporary structure plan was mainly to simply remove the issue from the Ha’Penny Bridge onto an alternative (perhaps immediately visible) somewhere nearby. Once the behaviour was ‘off’ the iconic Ha’Penny Bridge, we felt it should be then easier to move somewhere else I the city.

      The idea was that we’d replace it a few times (as you suggest) as the ‘fill up’.

      They could be later moved to the Valentine’s shrine. (There’s a DCC project looking at that area at the min.) We just felt that that’s a longer term plan (ie a couple years away).

      Or do you reckon we could/should look at that immediately?

What do you think? We'd love to hear feedback! :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s