Public speaking can be a decidedly tricky business. After all, maintaining a crowd’s attention through nothing more than the power of one’s words is a skill we’re not all blessed with.
Well, Professor Brian F Havel has no such worries, as he so superbly demonstrated in the Auditorium at WIT’s Cork Road campus on Wednesday afternoon last.
During a spellbinding hour in which he addressed the legacy of his father Miroslav Havel, the former chief designer of Waterford Crystal who passed away last September, Prof Havel’s passion for ‘The Glass’ proved endemic.
If it were possible to bottle Prof Havel’s enthusiasm for Waterford Crystal, situated literally yards from where he spoke, there’s no way on earth the factory would ever have met so sad a demise.
He spoke of his father’s Lismore suite design as if it were oxygen itself and his heart almost leapt from his chest when referring to Waterford Crystal’s global brand recognition, a status it still retains.
He also drew laughter from his audience when recalling his father standing in a field in Ballytruckle back in 1947, deep in conversation with fellow Czech Charles Bacik, sitting in a green shed at the time.
Bacik told Miroslav, then aged 25, that he was hopeful of opening his new venture (to be known as ‘Waterford Glass’) very soon, composed of a half-dozen cutting machines and an engraving machine.
“How many people are working with you now,” Miroslav questioned. “There’s just you,” replied Bacik. Another man might have walked away after such a deadpan declaration, but thankfully Miroslav Havel invested his faith in Charles Bacik. And in this meeting, an industrial legend was born.
“I can’t imagine a greater Irish success story than Waterford Crystal,” said Prof Havel, “Not even Ryanair have achieved what was achieved in Kilbarry.”
“When my father retired in 1987, there were 3,430 people working in the factory. That accounted for one in 10 of the city’s population at the time, an astonishing number in retrospect but a tribute to the vision of Bacik and Havel.”
From this juncture, two decades on, that number seems incredulous, especially to anyone who was a child at the time, oblivious to the ways of industry and employment. In many respects, Waterford was ‘The Glass’ and ‘The Glass’ in turn was Waterford. One couldn’t envisage one without the other.
Yet now, in 2009, we find ourselves at just such a fork in the road. KPS Capital’s silence regarding its future intentions for Kilbarry remains resoundingly deafening.
An entire region’s tourism viability largely rests on that particular decision, the prospect of 320,000 visitors bypassing the south east or not bothering with a trip to Ireland at all both firmly and sadly in play.
“Could you envisage the German government allowing Mercedes Benz to go by the wayside in a similar manner to Waterford Crystal”, Prof Havel queried, when discussing the demise of ‘The Glass’. “Of course not. It is inconceivable.”
Yet in the midst of the economic meltdown, this hapless Government of ours judged that Waterford Crystal wasn’t worth the hassle.
As was mentioned in other local media recently, a point also put to Prof Havel last week, Guinness would not have been left in the abyss by any Irish Government if it had encountered Waterford Crystal-like problems.
Consider too if a business of world renown was based in Brian Cowen’s home town of Clara: there is no conceivable circumstance in which our put down upon leader wouldn’t have promptly acted.
Brian Havel’s wonderful address on Wednesday last ought to have been recorded, with copies of it sent to every primary and secondary school in this city and county.
When he spoke about “an incredible achievement in world industrial history, the meeting of mass production and high art” in the context of Waterford Crystal, he wasn’t kidding.
That a Government of many deaf ears turned away from the magnificent cause of Waterford Crystal and the wonderful legacy of Miroslav Havel, may yet rank among its greatest sins.
He, his proud son and so many more deserve so much better.