Three Days In Waterford
April of 2013 found our family crossing the Atlantic for a two-week trip through the Republic of Ireland, Wales, and England. One stop along the way was in Waterford, located in the southeast of Ireland in Munster province. The oldest and fifth-largest city in the country, many are familiar with the Waterford name in connection with fine crystal. Yet this former Viking settlement has a wealth of history and charm that deserves a place in an Irish itinerary.
The city center, containing most of the tourist sites, is very pedestrian-friendly and walking is the best mode of travel. In fact we parked our car at the hotel and traveled on foot for our entire stay.
At one time many prominent cities around the world had some manner of walls or other fortifications, Waterford being no exception. The original Viking settlement was set up as a triangle-shaped walled city. Towers were located at the corners, the largest and most important of which sits near the confluence of the St John’s and the River Suir – an important strategic spot indeed. The 12th-century Reginald’s Tower still stands proudly in Waterford, the oldest civic building in Ireland. The Tower has served various functions over the centuries, including a prison and a mint.
Today Reginald’s Tower is open as a museum with a nice collection of artifacts tracing back to the town’s Viking foundings as well as mint-related items. Of note is the fact that the city uses the “Waterford Museum of Treasures” name as an umbrella for Reginald’s Tower, the Bishops’ Palace, and the Medieval Museum.
We spent about 45 minutes or so viewing the exhibits inside. It’s an adventure climbing up and down the original old stone stairways and peering out the narrow medieval windows to the river and streets below. I liked seeing the old tools, weapons, and small personal objects on display, as well as the coins and mint-related equipment. All in all, it was a neat feeling to just soak up the feeling of being in such an old structure that served such an important role in the history of not only Waterford but all of Ireland.
The Georgian-period Bishop’s Palace (built in 1741) presents local history from the 1700s through the late 20th century, particularly jewelry, housewares, art and other high-society pieces. The only surviving Napoleon mourning cross is one highlight. A significant amount of antique and newer Waterford Crystal is housed there as well. In fact we were able to view the oldest known piece of Waterford Crystal, a 1789 Penrose Decanter.
A highlight of our visit was the guided tour, conducted by period actors in costume. The guides obviously were enthused about their history and provided lively, humorous but informative commentary.
Notice the spread of fine Waterford crystal (some new, some antique) and mock food in the photograph of the dining room. The guides made several friendly reminders not to touch any of the items on the table. As the tour was beginning to move on, one of the men in the tour group walked over and picked up a rather large piece of crystal. The guide looked on, speechless for a moment, as the man showed it to his wife, turning the piece in his hands to admire it.
Then the guide snapped out of his shock, dashed over and directed the man to please, for the love of all that’s good, put that down! The tourist spoke in broken English, muttering “sorry” (I think) and placed the piece back on the table. Smiling, the guide thanked him and dryly noted that the value of that particular item was over 10,000 Euros. Even if the tourist hadn’t understood the repeated warnings in English, do you really need to be told not to pick up such items in a museum? Isn’t it sort of a given?
I’ll talk about the final stop in the trio of the Treasures Museum in my next post. A side note, the City Square Shopping Centre is a conveniently located shopping mall in Waterford. It has a couple of sit-down restaurants, the usual mall fast-food (smoothie shop, burgers, etc.), and a grocery store. We did stop in a couple of times for a quick bite or a snack. My wife even managed to find a few bargains (or so she said anyway 🙂 ) at one of the clothing stores.