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Know what this strange 19th century contraption is? It's getting a 2015 facelift

It’s an incredible feat of engineering.

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IF YOU’VE EVER seen this odd bell-shaped contraption on Sir Rogerson’s Quay, you might have wondered what on earth it is.

It’s a Victorian diving bell, a feat of Irish engineering that enabled divers to be transported deep into the ocean.

It was used for 87 years in building the quay walls in Dublin, and now it’s going to be turned into a tourist attraction.

The Dublin Port Company has announced that it will be transforming the diving bell into a new interpretive exhibition where people will get to find out more about its origin and history.

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Facts about the diving bell:

  • It’s 13m tall and weighs 90 tonnes
  • It was designed by the port engineer Bindon Blood Stoney (1828 to 1907), who also was responsible for the Boyne Viaduct in Drogheda, O’Connell Bridge and Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and North Wall Quay Extension.
  • The diving bell was built by Grendon and Co Drogheda
  • It was delivered to the Port in 1866
  • In 1871, it entered service
  • It was used in the building of the Port’s quay walls until 1958.

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How did it work?

  • Its lower section was hollow and bottomless
  • There was just enough room inside for six men to work at a time.
  • It was lowered into position on the riverbed, then the crew entered through an access funnel from the surface
  • Compressed air was fed in from a barge nearby
  • Once inside the bell, the men worked on the part of the river bed that they were standing on
  • They would excavate the site where a massive concrete block would later go
  • However they could only work in 30 minute shifts dues to the intense heat building up in the chamber.

What happened to the excavated soil? It was put into trays hanging inside the bell and lifted up with it.

What’s happening to the diving bell?

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A 350 tonne crane on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay will move the bell to its temporary home, 15 metres away, this week. It will undergo specialist painting and blast cleaning.

The project is expected to open in mid-June 2015. While it’s away, a new structural frame will be constructed in its place using stainless steel panels.

The bell will be elevated onto a two metre-tall steel structure, with a ramped public access route underneath.

A water feature will also be installed beneath this, accompanied by a series of interpretative panels explaining the significance of the diving bell.

The new exhibition will be illuminated at night using energy-efficient LED lighting.

The project has been designed with the expertise of people including architect Sean O’Laoire, the sculptor Vivienne Roche, Tom Cosgrave (professor of engineering at the University of Limerick) and Mary Mulvihill of Ingenious Ireland.

This is the first project in Dublin Port’s plan to create a ‘distributed museum’ of attractions across the docklands and into Dublin Port. Weslin Construction Ltd will carry out the project.

Dublin Port Company. Picture Conor McCabe Photography. Source: Conor McCabe

Eamonn O’Reilly, Chief Executive, Dublin Port Company said:

The Diving Bell is a remarkable feat of Irish engineering and Dublin Port Company is proud to invest in its transformation and bring the history of this magnificent structure to life along the Liffey. True to the commitment in our Masterplan, we are working to better integrate Dublin Port and the city.

Betty Ashe of St Andrew’s Resource Centre, Pearse Street, said: “As a port community, we have a duty to preserve local history for future generations. I thank Dublin Port Company for sharing that vision and giving the diving bell a prominent place in the history books for this community and our city.”

More information on the project can be found on www.weslin.ie

Read: These are just some of the 116 puppies seized at Dublin Port>

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