Liffey clock to be tock of the town in March

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WHAT the National Lottery calls "the most beautiful and astonishing clock in the world", a unique millennium timepiece in the River Liffey at O'Connell Bridge, is to be switched on before the end of March.

The lottery says people will be "really amazed" by the underwater digital clock and its retinue of electra carbon reeds" which will count down in seconds to the year 2000, providing a "national focus" for the millennium.

"Designed by two young architects, Ms Grainne Hassett and Mr Vincent Ducatez, this unusual project has involved working with divers, engineers, underwater electricians and people who know about submarines and oil rigs.

The project has taken longer than expected because "nobody has ever done anything like this before", Ms Hassett said.

The timepiece has been designed to float just below the water level, whether at high or low tide, she explained. Passersby will see "the shimmering lights of nine giant digits counting down the number of seconds to 2000".

The timepiece, measuring 12 metres by 2.3 metres, will be surrounded by the electra carbon "reeds", each seven metres high, mounted on buoys in the river and lit from the base by flashing lights.

The clock will be mounted on a buoyant steel frame which will be held in place by concrete anchors and steel restraining arms. An IrishEnco dredger has been installing this structure since early December.

A stainless steel booth on O'Connell Bridge will have an automatic dispense where, for 20, anyone will be able to get a printout of the number of seconds left before 2000.

"Longevity was one of our main concerns, because it has to strike every single second for almost four years," Ms Hassett said.

One of the snags the design team had to overcome was that the time piece would have to be taken out of the river at least three times a year to facilitate the Liffey Swim and two boat races.

Hassett and Ducatez Architects became involved in the project when they won the first prize of £10,000 and a commission from the National Lottery to design its "Countdown 2000" clock after a major competition in mid 1994.

The lottery had hoped to have it installed before New Year's Eve 1994, but this was impossible because of the project's technical complexity. Another tentative deadline, last New Year's Eve, was also missed for the same reason.

"We're anxious to see that everything works before setting a launch date, but we're hopeful that it will be before the end of March," said Ms Paula McEvoy, the lottery's spokeswoman.

She conceded that the project was now running above its original budget of £100,000. However, she said "When it's up and running, we are confident that people will say it was worth it.

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