4 Things You Need to Do in Waterford | Your Weekend Guide
Drama was Waterford’s middle name and I couldn’t wait to go.
A growing multinational workforce and a rising number of visitors have made Dublin an increasingly busy European capital. Even myself who has been living in the “Fair City” for years can feel overwhelmed at times.
Thankfully for those of us seeking quieter horizons, lesser known Irish cities have worked hard to bring their cultural heritage to the forefront of the tourism industry. Waterford is one of them.
Known as Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford has a rich past and heritage to explore. Located just a little more than 2 hours outside Dublin, this city makes for a great weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of the Irish capital. Here is my list of essential things to do in Waterford.
Its foundation dates back to 914 when the Vikings established a settlement at the mouth of three rivers: the River Nore, the River Suir and the River Barrow. A very strategic location that could be easily defended and positioned the city on the trade routes between the North and the South of Europe. Its name “Waterford” came from Old Norse “Vadrarfjordr” meaning “Fjord of the rams”.
At the end of the Quay Reginald’s Tower suddenly appeared to me; a fat, sturdy round tower, the city’s landmark monument and Ireland’s oldest civic building. I repeat: Ireland’s OLDEST civic building (everybody should now have a sense of how OLD this place is!) with 800 years of uninterrupted use. At the time of my visit the tower was housing an exhibition on Viking Waterford.
No smelly, bloodthirsty, axe-wielding warriors inside though. Just a smiling member of staff that I suspected might be doing lunges when the place was free of tourists to keep warm inside these windowless 10 feet wide walls. She advised to start the visit from the top floor and make my way down for a better experience.
Reaching the top floor, I sat in front of a short video recounting the history of the place. The first tower had been built by the Vikings after 914 at the apex of a triangular settlement now evocatively known as the Viking Triangle.
As discovered in Reginald’s Tower, the Vikings were not just savages with questionable hair styles and a love for strong drinks. They were skilled craftsmen and versed tradesmen who had intermarried with the local population. So I felt slightly sorry to learn that in the 12th century they had been booted out of their flourishing Waterford by the King of Leinster, Diarmuid McMurrough.
Address: Parade Quay, Waterford.
Tip: A great way to start your visit as you learn about the very foundation of the city.
Waterford Medieval Museum | Uncover Unique Medieval Treasures
The Vikings – then still considered outsiders – were driven out of the city by McMurrough with the help of Henry II King of England and his Anglo-Norman army, triggering the most important upheaval in Irish history: the Anglo-Norman invasion (I loved the drama of that place!).
Waterford would forever be remembered as the place where Ireland’s destiny was sealed. It was here in the cathedral that the commander of the Anglo-Norman army, Richard de Clare, commonly known as Strongbow, married in 1170 the King of Leinster’s daughter, Princess Aoife, after his army had conquered Waterford.
I will always remember the magnificent fairytale-like shiny bearing sword and the Cap of Maintenance both offered by King Henry VIII (6 marriages, Anne Boleyn losing her head; that rings a bell?) to the Mayor of Waterford in 1536. The luxurious hat made of red Italian velvet is the only piece of the King’s wardrobe to survive to this day. Blame Cromwell and his fanatical spring cleaning.
Following the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Oliver Cromwell was sent to Ireland by the English Parliament to regain control over the island. He besieged Waterford in 1649-50 but the city, unlike the rest of Ireland, didn’t fall.
As terrible a day as this I have never marched in all my life.
Oliver Cromwell (1649)
Buried for 123 years and rediscovered when the cathedral was being demolished, one of the greatest treasures of late medieval Europe became Waterford’s Medieval Museum’s proudest centrepiece: the Waterford cloth-of-gold vestments, the only full set of medieval vestments to survive in Northern Europe. The 15th century vestments, made of Italian silk of Florence and embroidered in Bruges with Bible-inspired designs, was exhibited in a dim room with just enough light to make them glow. The experience was quite mystical.
Address: The Mall, Waterford.
Tip: Don’t miss the guided tour (included in your ticket), the tour guide was great fun and he knows his stuff!
The Bishop’s Palace | Dive Into 18th Century Ireland
The pastel blue walls of the Withdrawing Room were adorned with sumptuous giltwood mirrors that any over-priced boutique hotel would kill to have above its reception desk. In the Music Room an antique concert harp also known as a pedal harp was hopelessly waiting for its next musician.
Address: The Mall, Waterford.
Tip: You can access both the Medieval Museum and the Bishop’s Palace for 10€ with the combined admission ticket.
Waterford Crystal Factory | Go Behind the Scene of a Century Old Irish Artistry
The fun was to take a tour of the manufacturing facilities located just beside the retail store. Walking carefully between the yellow lines, a guide (and his microphone!) was leading the visitors through the different stages of creation. Right under our eyes vases and bowls were taking shape under the busy fingers of the expert craftsmen.
The men (and women!) were not shy either and would engage in conversation with the visitors curious for more information about their art. Because this was ART. Five years of training to master the art of blowing. Years of apprenticeship to become an accomplished engraver. This was a career for life that required dedication.
It is this very dedication that has led Waterford Crystal to international fame and the Ellen DeGeneres Show! One day as I was procrastinating in front of my screen (yes, it does happen), the popular TV host introduced to her overly excited audience the new award piece designed by Waterford Crystal that would be presented at the next Oscars. In her hands was the achievement of 200 years of Irish craftsmanship dedicated to produce only the best.
HOUSE OF WATERFORD CRYSTAL€12.60 online
Address: The Mall, Waterford.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the staff during the tour. And don’t drop anything!