The title says it all.
Surely those familiar with crystal will open this page fully expecting to see a lot about the famous Waterford Crystal, the crystal that comprises the modern day Super Bowl trophy and many a curio cabinet collection. Take heart, the crystal factory will be addressed later in this travelogue, but to reduce Waterford to merely its best-known industry would do the city grave injustice. Waterford is a beautiful and growing city that is seeking to shed its hard-boiled and derelict industrial past in favor of a more upscale image. From what I saw, it is succeeding, so far.
That doesn't mean Waterford's trying to make a complete break from the past. Far from it. Being ideally positioned near the mouth of the Suir River, Waterford has a history that traces back to Roman times. As a city, it is eleven centuries old, and all eleven centuries are well documented in the wonderful City Museum in the Granary located next to the Tourist Information Office on the southern bank of the Suir. I really enjoyed the Museum. It was very informative and the material was superbly organized, with guided tours in several languages. The detail provided was high-quality and even-handed -- from its depiction of the Vikings to the origins of conflict with the English to the emergence of Waterford's glass industry. I could only afford one-and-a-half hours there, but could easily have spent three.
The city herself is a grand mix of the new and the old. The new is captured well in the first photo of George's Street, part of the new and colorful pedestrian district. Stretching three blocks, this polished and clean district has trendy shops, old-fashioned pubs, and art galleries. Yet, mixed in are several old and well-preserved relics, such as Reginald's Tower, shown in the second photo, several old churches and abbeys, and large sections of the ancient city wall. The Tourist Information Bureau has an excellent map that will take you on a walking route around the whole downtown (my estimated walking time is about four hours).
You will find the shopping district extends far beyond the pedestrian zone, in fact good shopping can be found just about everyplace inside the old city wall. Meanwhile, newer districts have appeared further out among the new housing districts on the hills to the south and along the wharfs to the east. Meanwhile, the waterfront is getting prepped for expansion as the remaining derelict factories on the north bank are set to be razed and replaced with stores and hotels (or so I was told).
It was at the waterfront where I had the pleasure of witnessing the city parade. Each year coinciding with Ireland's August bank holiday, Waterford hosts its annual festival, including a parade and fireworks on the Sunday evening. The parade is quite an affair, with the city's youth dressed in all sorts of world costumes representing European, African, and Asian cultures (and an alien culture with an Elvis impersonator singing and gyrating inside a spaceship). The parade has grown in popularity each year, this time 18,000 were estimated to have lined the road.
Waterford's environs are very picturesque, with the high banks of the Suir River providing plenty of great views of the city and the surrounding farmland. Further to the east, the Suir River splits and forms the Waterford Island, upon which is Waterford Castle and the Waterford Gold Club. Accessible only by ferry, these facilities are primarily for the well-to-do, but they are open to the curious public. A scenic trail circles around the castle (fourth photo) and the western half of the island. Afterward taking the trail, I enjoyed a cold drink at the clubhouse.
Meanwhile, if you do want to visit the Waterford Crystal Factory (and almost assuredly you do), it is only a fifteen-minute walk or three-minute bus ride south of town. I didn't think the Factory was all that big, at least not as big as one would think of a world-wide operation), but its tour was very fascinating. Indeed, the Factory handles hundreds of visitors every day, and it is likely you will be accompanied by half a dozen tour groups. The Visitors Center is huge, and displays some of the Factory's most impressive pieces -- like the meter-tall urn shown in the fifth photo.
Of course, the end product is only half as interesting as the process of making it. The tour is very well organized and allows you to see just how the crystal is made. I was rather astonished to see how easily the glass blowers manipulate molten crystal into perfectly shaped pitchers, vases, and other glasswork. The sixth picture doesn't do the process of attaching a pitcher handle justice -- the combination of shaping and spinning the pitcher would take too long for me to describe. Meanwhile, the tour covered the process of cutting and engraving the glass in tremendous detail, and at each step the visitors were permitted to watch the masters at work.
I enjoyed everything about Waterford -- the museums, the shopping, and the scenery. It's a great place to visit, and with the other nearby attractions (see soon in the Waterford County travelogue) it is a great place to satellite from. Located halfway between the major airports of Dublin and Cork, it's pretty convenient while still being just 'far enough' away.
Trip taken 6 August 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin