In today’s world of instant information access via the world wide web, it is to that portal most people go to garner information on any new area of interest on virtually any subject on earth. While information is out there on everything, one of the most popular reasons is to check-out holiday destinations – the facilities and attractions of various destinations or resorts and particularly the merits of such a hotel as opposed to another.

The Trip Advisor site is a favourite of many in vetting reviews of this or that – good advice by the way is to dismiss the best and the worst as, like most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle! Information on towns and cities here in Ireland and indeed all over the world have lots of information posted about them on the web on various sites. So this week I decided to go in search of what the interested browser/surfer would read about Waterford, Ireland. Maybe they are planning to visit putting it on their itinerary of their trip to Ireland/Europe, perhaps wondering how long they should stay over. Perhaps their interest is staying here in the long or short term for business, professional or cultural reasons and they’re wondering what the character of the place feels like.

Well – the city council’s own web site – is quite good with an array of attractive urban images, list of services and outline of the city’s history. The (library) site is also most informative on a comprehensive range of services available not just locally but throughout the city. But an awful lot of folk in far off places who ‘google-in’ Waterford will bring up the very widely read Wikipedia web site. Readers are invited to submit entities of information to this site. Sometimes these entries can be work of great scholarship and sometimes, well, far from it! The material I read on Waterford was generally quite good and its author clearly went to a lot of trouble to be informative about the city. So read on and tell me what do you think.

Some history

Waterford (from the Old Norse: Veðrafjǫrðr meaning “Ram fjord” or Windy fjord; Irish: Port Láirge, meaning Hilly Shore) is a city in Ireland. It is the primary city of the South East region, and the fifth largest in the country. Founded in 914 AD, by the Vikings, it is Ireland’s oldest city.

Waterford is the largest city in Ireland to retain its Viking-derived name, Vedrarfjord. Reginald’s Tower is the oldest urban civic building in Ireland, and the oldest monument to retain its Viking name. It is to this day Waterford’s most recognisable landmark. The tower is believed to be the first building in Ireland to use mortar.

The population of the city in 2006 was 49,240; of which 45,775 lived within the city limits, and 3,465 lived in the city’s suburbs in County Kilkenny. The River Suir flows through Waterford city and has provided a basis for Waterford’s long maritime history. Waterford Port has been one of Ireland’s major ports for over a millennium. In the 19th century shipbuilding was a major industry in the city. The owners of the Neptune Shipyard, the Malcolmson family, built and operated the largest fleet of iron steamers in the world between the mid-1850s and the late-1860s, including five trans-Atlantic passenger liners. Today, Waterford is synonymous with Waterford Crystal the world over, a legacy of one of the city’s most successful and enduring industries, glass making. (Is this set to change folks?) Glass, or crystal, has been manufactured in the city since 1783. Waterford is the sister city of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and Rochester, New York.

Places of interest

A view from The Quays: “The Three Sisters” mix near the city before flowing into the harbour.

The old city of Waterford consists of various cultural quarters. The oldest is what has been referred to as the Viking triangle. This is the part of the city surrounded by the original 10th century fortifications, which is triangular in shape with its apex at Reginald’s tower. Though this was once the site of a thriving Viking town, the city centre has shifted to the west over the years, and it is now a quiet and tranquil area, dominated by narrow streets, medieval architecture, and civic spaces. Over the past decade, a number of restaurants have opened in High Street and Henrietta Street, taking advantage of the charming character of the area. Much of Waterford’s impressive architecture is to be found in the Viking triangle.

In the 15th century, the city was enlarged with the building of an outer wall on the west side. Today Waterford retains more of its city walls than any other city in Ireland with the exception of Derry, whose walls were built much later. Tours of Waterford’s city walls are conducted daily.

The Quay, once termed by historian Mark Girouard ‘the noblest quay in Europe’, is a mile long from Grattan Quay to Adelphi Quay, though Adelphi Quay is now a residential area. It is still a major focal point for Waterford, commercially and socially, and the face that Waterford presents to those traveling into the city from the north. Near Reginald’s Tower is the William Vincent Wallace Plaza, a monument and amenity built around the time of the millennium that commemorates the Waterford born composer.

John Roberts Square is a pedestrianised area that is one of the main focal points of Waterford’s modern day commercial centre. (Well what about both of these?).

Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity

It was named after the city’s most celebrated architect, John Roberts, and was formed from the junction of Barronstrand Street, Broad Street and George’s Street. It is often referred to locally as Red Square, due to the red paving that was used when the area was first pedestrianised. A short distance to the east of John Roberts Square is Arundel Square, another square with a fine commercial tradition, which the City Square shopping centre opens onto.

Ballybricken, in the west, just outside the city walls, is thought to have been Waterford’s Irishtown, a type of settlement that often formed outside Irish cities to house the Vikings and Irish that had been expelled during the Norman conquest of Ireland. Ballybricken is an inner city neighbourhood with a long tradition, centred around Ballybricken hill, which was a large, open market-square. Today it has been converted into a green, civic space, but the Bull Post, where livestock was once bought and sold, still stands as a remnant of the hill’s past.

The Mall is a fine Georgian thoroughfare, built by the Wide Streets Commission in order to extend the city southwards. It contains some of the city’s finest Georgian architecture. The People’s Park, Waterford’s largest and finest park, is located nearby.

Ferrybank in County Kilkenny is Waterford city’s only suburb north of the river. It contains a village centre of its own, and is often perceived as being somewhat isolated from the city, probably due to the wide expanse of the Suir, and the lack of convenient access between north and south of the river. (Much promised!)

In April 2003 an important site combining a 5th century Iron Age and 9th century Viking settlement was discovered at Woodstown near the city, which appears to have been a Viking town that predates all such settlements in Ireland. Well, what’s your overall opinion of the image of Waterford as presented here, Informative? Attractive? Interesting?

Next week, as a further guide to you, local or visitor (present or potential) we will continue this intro to our city with emphasis on the arts, museums, theatre etc.

By the Way – Munster to win, not To Lose!

Go seachtain eile, slán.