Any great journey begins with the first step and so does this renewed journey of Waterford Crystal. This renewal is being deservedly celebrated this week and speaks volumes as to the spirit of enterprise and determination which has made this day possible and brought to fruition in all its sparkling beauty.

It was a dark day indeed when the Factory at Kilbarry finally closed. The dismal ominous clouds had been looming for sometime – a great sadness, a sense of loss, a sense of great gloom even a sense of hurt pervaded. We listened to the doleful death-knell being tolled for lost livelihoods and the proud traditions of the skill and craftsmanship finely honed over decades, nay, centuries here in Waterford. By this stage the storm clouds of recession only served to compound our depression – no hope looming over the horizon.

But as the sentiments of a well known song goes- the darkest hour is just before dawn. Few realised then that a new beginning, a virtual rebirth, would come so soon. The great weather helps but as the Bard put it – there is a tide in the affairs of men when taken at the flood leads on to fortune. In a maritime city this seems especially apposite. I sense a renewed sense of pride in our city which in no small way has been inspired by the positive leadership shown by the leadership at the City Council. The City Manager, Michael Walsh and his team deserve great praise and recognition for their imaginative determination in making this day possible so quickly and with such style.

1783- A Crystal Year

Over the last few weeks this column has looked at the history and craft of crystal glass cutting and design. We also had a brief glance at story of the development of the Mall which has become the deservedly focus of such attention – as I suggested it may well become to be known as the Crystal Mall. Last week we spoke how the first steps to lay out a passageway began as far back as 1712, talk of a bowling green and walk in 1725 to the establishment of the Old Mall in 1735/37. Matters were beginning to take their present shape by 1741 with the building of the Bishop’s palace. 1783 witnessed further fine buildings thus helping to create this grand municipal Mall. In that year the Corporation which had first intended to develop the eastern side of the newly opened thoroughfare but in the end decided to build the newly proposed Assembly Rooms and Playhouse on the other side which in time would evolve into the City Hall and Theatre Royal. With the Bishop’s Palace in place since circa 1740 against the backdrop of the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral the Mall developed into one of Waterford’s finest and proudest thoroughfares. In time the Bishop Foy School was built on that vacated eastern side and lasted there till 1967 following which the former ESB building was erected there. Now that lay vacant for some time now until the Council took that bold and imaginative step to establish our brilliant House of Crystal there. Now a happy coincidence that links the date of 1783 mentioned above as a formative date of the Mall here and this week’s momentous events is that it was in that very same year of 1783 that the Penrose Brothers, George and William first open their original glass factory in Waterford. So there is reason enough for believing that Hope and History is Rhyming at this time for Waterford.

A catalyst for change

The successful development of the House of Waterford Crystal is proving to be a much needed catalyst for the City of Waterford. There is a palpable new sense of pride about the place and this spirit of positivity may well prove contagious- good contagion, of course, we’ve had enough of the other! There is now a realization that Waterford had grown complacent as to its tourist potential and while there had been many a talking shop over the years and great shopping lists compiled of good intentions and pious noises of resolutions, much of it came to little or nothing. Some good work was done like Cathedral Square but then years of being sadly neglected. John Roberts Square is a fine open urban space but design features too often leave it dull and dreary.

But over the last few years things have changed. There is a discernible new can-do attitude, a positivity laced with imagination. This is especially evident in the development and marketing of the Viking Triangle – there’s Gold in them there stones!

Round and About

The whole Mall and its environs is undergoing a much needed overall – about time, I hear many a voice say and long may it continue and extend its reach thereabouts. I took a stroll around the other day. A great job has been done on the former Bolton Street car park and has not only been doubled even tripled in size but the riverside wall has been seriously upgraded. Not only that, but there seems to be an interconnection to the Court House/People’s Park grounds. Well done as it’s long overdue.

The nearby Beau Street could well do with an upgrading and could be transformed into a very attractive urban by-way now that it’s at the heart of things. Speaking of which- many questions have been asked as to the status of ‘the pink elephant in the room’ just around the corner – I speak of the former big pub premises here. I assume/hope that there are plans to deal with the premises here as a matter of urgency, indeed as a matter of Pride. Meanwhile welcome back to the Munster’s presence on the Mall and a cead mile failte to Langtons anseo. As they say, the pendulum always swings, so may the nightlife again!

But to finish on a final positive note, Waterford people have been flocking to their newly embellished Mall, as something special has been created there, and I speak not just of the newly sparkling crystal adorning the shelves of the showrooms but of the streetscape of the Mall itself which now newly and truly adorns this city as never before.

Go Seachtain Eile, Slan.