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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Waterford Ain't Just Crystal

Reginald's Tower. Named for, (Irish-Viking) ruler of the city Ragnall MacGillemaire
Inside the tower. 

Waterford, Ireland.  What's the first thing you think of?  If you even mention 'World famous crystal,' you're too far into your feminine side, unless you're a woman.  Then you're right in the doe-eyed, credit card zone. 

When a man’s man, the kind of guy who can swill a beer and belch out the flame of a candle twenty feet away, thinks of Ireland, two things cross his Cro-Magnon  mind:  Guinness and whiskey.  Ok, maybe a third thing, but since your wife is looking over your shoulder, we won’t mention the gorgeous redheads, the statuesque figures, the looks you know in your heart are only meant for you.

No, instead, let’s concentrate on marauding, plundering, gleaming swords, battles, and other precursors to football and golf.

Ok, take a thought mulligan.  What’s the first thing you think of in Waterford?  Vikings!  Yes!  Those masters of the longboat, explorers extraordinaire, feared by conquered men, adored by conquered women…. those tall, blond guys, festooned in animal skins, horned helmets, and waving heavy swords.  They founded Waterford.  Pretty big settlement in the 900’s.  Still is.  They built their city in a large triangle at the water’s edge, surrounded by a timbered wall.  Today’s the area is still known as The Viking Triangle and encompasses much of the old city.

You won’t visit Waterford without hearing of The Viking Triangle, but let’s add some names to get your visit in gear:  Reginald’s Tower, The Bishop’s Palace, The Waterford Museum of Treasures, and of course the Waterford Crystal Factory.   The good news is all four are only a block or two apart. Tours are offered at all four places. Better news:  pubs are also an easy walk.  

Keep in mind, those are only the big four.  Lots of other olden things to see if you're in town for a few days.  From the shoreline, to the harbor, to the old churches and monasteries, Ireland's second largest city will keep you entertained.

Statue of Luke Wadding, outside Greyfriars monastery.  He's the chap who got the pope to make St Patrick's Day a feast day.  Hey, we can all drink to that!

Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.  Seems kinda plain for a Catholic church.  When they built it, the Catholics had to keep it simple of avoid offending the Protestants.

The only real question is, how long can you can stare at relics before a desperate need for a pint of Guinness or a drop of Ireland’s finest whiskey grabs you in a vice-like grip and forces you into a pub. I give you two hours, max.

But onward to the treasures of Waterford.

Reginald’s Tower is at the point of The Viking Triangle closest to the water’s edge.  The Vikings built it of wood, but over the centuries, pockmarked by wars and rebuilt by various owners, original wood morphed to stone.  Along the way, the tower’s been a jail, a mint, a castle, and now a museum.  The tour guide waxes well about the history, as well as the civil and hygienic conditions on the long road from then to today.  It’s said that the tower is the oldest standing building in Ireland.

Down the street is The Bishop’s Palace.  If the tower sings of the Vikings, The Bishop’s Palace gets you into the middle 1700s.  Reinactors guide you room to room through the foibles of yesteryear.  Lots of original furnishings and you can see one of the earliest examples of Waterford Crystal.

Inside the Bishop's Palace

Oldest Waterford crystal in the world.

To the side of The Bishop’s Palace stands The Waterford Museum of Treasures, which will lead you through 1000 years of fascinating history.  Wars, the Church, Kings, and knaves all intertwine.  If you want to know about medieval Waterford, this is the place.  Far from dusty and boring, this museum first opened in 1999 and is first class.  Bright.  Airy.  Well presented. Great coffee shop. You will especially want to view the gold vestments and hear of their improbable journey.

Here are a few of the treasures:

Henry VIII's sword

His hat.

Just one of the seven gold vestments, buried and recovered.

Across the street from The Bishop’s Palace is the Waterford Crystal Factory and showroom.  There are tours, but be warned, they fill up fast. Even if you don’t do the tour, walk through the stunning showroom.

Since its beginning as Primrose Glass Company in 1783, Waterford Crystal has had its ups and downs, but somehow always survived because of quality and demand.  I suggest this link if you want to read more:

Now for a drink.  Walk down the street.  Look for a crowd of boisterous barbarians.  Go inside.  Ah, that’s better.  Education is a thirsty business.

Flowers adorn this city!

That boisterous crowd you were looking for.

A bit of shopping.

End it with a pub lunch:  Shepard's pie!

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