Saturday 16 February 2019

The Millennium Clock

Rory Egan

IN THE few years leading up to the start of the new millennium, many things were promised but some never happened. The Spire which was to be the central focus of the celebrations was only finished three years after the millennium started. The Liffey was to be set alight (only the plans of the organisers went up in flames on the fateful night!).

All civilised life as we knew it was due to cease after the December 31, 1999, when computers with just two digits in their clock for the year in '99 would think that the year 1900 would follow the year 1999!

But the best visual aide we never had was to remind us that we were about to travel into a new era in time. It was the "Millennium Timer".

Devised and commissioned by the National Lottery, it reflected the anticipation and sense of history that our country was feeling. We were emerging as a new, young, vibrant and technology-savvy nation, ready to take our place in the world.

The Millennium Clock as it was later called, was a magnificent feat of engineering, weighing nearly 1,000kg with its solid steel frame, 1.9 metres deep by 7.8 metres wide. Placed just below the surface of the Liffey, the illuminated numerals would shine up through the water and would count down the seconds to the new millennium.

There was even a facility for the general public to pay 20p (26¢) to have a postcard printed showing the exact number of minutes and seconds remaining from that point on.

The timer itself was two metres by one metre and was powered by a special electrical station that was fixed to the bridge. Made by Irishenco, it was unveiled to unbridled praise on the night of March 15, 1996.

Unfortunately, it was not the great success it was designed to be. Beset with problems from the start, the clock seemed less water resistant than the watches sold by street traders. It could rarely be seen from most vantage points and frequently displayed the wrong time.

It was also singularly unsuited to the murky waters of Anna Livia Plurabelle and developed a scaly green deposit that made it unreadable.

Dublin wags inevitably gave it its enduring nickname "The Chime in the Slime" and the National Lottery, in fairness, tried to rectify the many problems the unsightly timepiece was having.

Sensing the mood of the nation the Lottery bowed to the inevitable and fished their well-meaning gift from the chilly waters in December 1996, nine months after its launch.

It was, we are reliably informed, destroyed in an environmentally friendly way and in doing so the millennium clock showed, in its denouement, that it was at last, up with the times.

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