Historic Liffey diving bell to become visitors’ centre

WANT to know how Dublin city port was constructed?

A diving bell was used for almost 90 years to build the quay walls, and work begins this week to transform the 13-metre tall, 90-tonne structure into an interpretative centre.

The bell was designed by port engineer Bindon Blood Stoney (1828-1907) and built by Grendon and Company in Drogheda.

Appointed in 1862 as the Dublin Ballast Board’s chief engineer, Stoney was responsible for building deep-water quays along the Liffey and decided to use a novel method of underwater construction.

Massive concrete blocks of 350 tonnes were made on the quayside and lowered into position on to the river bed, which had previously been levelled by workmen.

This was done by lowering the diving bell into position, pumping water out and compressed air in. Workers entered through a tunnel at the top, and passed through an airlock, which allowed them to level the river bed.

The restoration project, on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, begins this week and will be completed by the middle of June.

The bell will be elevated on to a two-metre steel structure, creating access for the public underneath, where a water feature will be installed and interpretative panels explaining the historical, social and engineering significance of the bell.

“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,” Dublin Port Company chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly said.

“Developing the diving bell is the first step in our plan to create a distributed museum of port and industrial heritage attractions.”

The bell entered service in 1871 and was used until 1958.