Waterford City has been evolving, growing and adapting, undergoing transformation one way or another for many generations and indeed over the centuries only the pace has varied.

Sometimes it has been very gradual, snail-like at times, but over the past decade it has been experiencing a period of rapid change and transformation. Not only has our built environment been undergoing change but long awaited infrastructural projects are finally being put in place. So the pace of change will be accelerated even more. But just as importantly, the demographics and cultural/ethnic mix have also undergone or are undergoing great change.

Waterford, just like the rest of the country until recent times, was pretty much homogeneous in its population profile and cultural mix and background. Nowadays, this is no longer the case with a pretty significant percentage of the population not native born, indeed they have come here from many and diverse parts of the globe. Waterford enjoyed and benefited from diversity in its history as a great trading port.

So where is all this musing leading us, you may ask? We assume that every one else knows what’s what and where’s where. Well for a start, there’s all this WELL stuff, more of that another day but today I want to take the relative newcomers – new Waterfordonians – for a few walkabouts so as to discover some of our shared heritage. You can come along too!

Of Wine, Women and Song

Let’s first stroll down John’s Lane – while down at heel for some time (though the work on Wyse’s Park has improved matters) it has a distinguished history and gave its name to all the other Johns this that and the other of Waterford. This lies to the rear of one of Waterford’s newest pubs, Masons, which stands on the site of what was one of its oldest, ie Davy Mac’s. Here lies the centre of Waterford’s nightlife of pubs and clubs. The unique pub that is Geoffs is now not only nationally, but of international repute which in fact was the original magnet of both the hippy and trendy to the Applemarket area.

Waterford is well served by its pubs and each has its advocates and fans and most would rate high in comparison with those of any town or city in Ireland. My own ‘top of the pubs’ would include the aforementioned Geoffs which is generally regarded as the original of the species. Then, of course, there’s the great Tap Room in its commanding position on Ballybricken, for the best of company, cairde, craic agus ceol ! Then onto another unique hostelry, Downes of Thomas Street, seek it out and enjoy it; just around the corner is another once-off, Tom Maher’s who died a few years ago. However if you are a ‘bean cara’ then no offence ach ‘nil aon chead isteach’ policy remains. Also worth checking is bean eile ar fad across the street in ‘Ali’s. Further up the street from 0’Connell Street to George’s Street stands the famous T&H’s of song and story and ancient walls. Another long standing establishment is Jordan’s American bar on the Quay opposite the Plazza and no shortage of characters and chat and it even has a dart room! There are many others with their attractions too – Cheers.

The Naming Game

No better place to start than here on the Quay which lies alongside the Suir or the Quay River or the Kay river, as some would have it! One well travelled visitor once dubbed it the noblest quays in Europe but a local wag has since given that a twist with the tag of the ‘noblest car park’! The main portal activity has now been shifted down the river to Bellview – where all that heap of heavy metal should be! But the quays could tell a thousand year tale of maritime history, and the very raison d’etres of its being as well as that of the city. The river wasn’t crossed until 1793, mainly because of its width, resulting in a lop-sided development, leaving this side as a kind of Buda and the other as a ‘little Pest’. Common sense alone dictates the correction of this imbalance – the much heralded grand plans are finally underway ala last week’s front page story.

Let’s go across to Railway Square where there is no railway (apart from a little toy one). But it used to be the terminus for the Tramore/Waterford railway line which was sadly closed down on December 31st 1960. The area now awaits further developments in what was once Mason’s Meadow. Nearby, in the vicinity the Woodman pub was and is the Car Stand where horse and hackney plied their trade.

Stop the Lights

The junction here was for a long time known as ‘the lights’, being the first traffic lights in Waterford. Up we go to the next junction and turn left (if you can!). This College Street which is fortuitous as it was named after St John’s College (another St John connection) built on the Wyse estate of the Manor St John. The Manor thus giving its name to the local street and the hill above us but more usually called Bunkers Hill! As in a battle of American War of Independence (1775) and it’s still a battle to get up it! A Good Shepherd Convent was the original purpose of what today is part of The Waterford Institute of Technology and so once again justifies the name of College Street!

Proceed up Bunkers Hill and turn left at the ‘new lights’ and keep going through the next lights and down along Cannon Streets (big shots must have lived here!) and after the new roundabout we meet Matties Hill with its all new City Vets. On we go and we can observe ‘the Factory’ into our right. Despite having lots and lots of other factories the ‘factory will always mean the Glass Factory or just simply The Glass. Its story would take many volumes to fully tell its tale. Today Bausch and Lomb are Waterford’s biggest employers and hugely important to the local economy but the ‘The Glass’ still is central and encapsulates centuries of a traditional craft.

More Name Dropping

It will not take you long to spot that the Powers are everywhere, it being by far the most common surname, having come ashore with Strongbow and the Normans as De Poer. This is followed by O’Brien and then Phelan as popular surnames, many of the other names reflect the patterns and strands of its diverse history. But Phelan is an interesting one because the same name also emerged from its Irish roots of O’Faoilean, or Whelan. I’ve heard of two spinster sisters being known by one of each. To add to the riddle both can be pronounced sounding like Wailin! And not only that but it took me years to cop on that seemingly gentle sounding Rathmoylan near Dunmore is pronounced Rath Wailin – follow that but that’s why I am here to help you plug into the lingua franca!

Tops of the Town

Waterford always had a great musical tradition of every genre and again it would take a good book to tell it (try tracking down a copy of Heads and Tales). Here’s but a few bars like William Vincent Wallace the Plazza Man, the Rocking Val Doonican; Mr Hucklebuck himself Brendan Bower and the great Royal Showband who urged the younger Beatles to keep at it and they would make it big like them! And also Gilbert Ray O’Sullivan the Piano man; there has been a myriad of other bands many of which were very talented. Waterford is the home of the International Light Opera Festival which is still thriving after nearly 50 years. The former but long running Tops of the Town had its origins in Waterford and was supported hugely by folk from the ‘top of the town’! And let’s not forget another Waterford unique creation, the Spraoi, which come the August Bank Holiday turns this town into the world capital of craic.

We never got to canting and being over-right ya and of the 15th of August and Red Squares and dead ones and Breen’s of the Bridge and Garter Lane and all things Red Kettle and WYD or talk of the origins of ancient rivalries between Erin’s Own/Mount Sion/Roanmore! Or indeed, how come the name Colclough is pronounced Coakley! Another tale is that of ‘didley’ money and clubs. And don’t forget the pills and knocks and of courting ‘out the rock’. Maybe another time. And oh, by the way did I mention the Dunmore Road, now that’s another tail (back). I’ll bring you more another time of the Blow-In’s Guide to Waterford.

. . . Go seachtain eile, slan.