Well done to Discover Ireland/Failte Ireland and Waterford Civic Trust who have combined to produce an excellent new tourist map of Waterford. It’s done in an attractive colourful 3D effect format revealing Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city in a new light. We spoke recently of the newly invigorating spirit to be sensed in Waterford. This was given gloriously positive expression in the form of the re-emergence of the crystal industry of Waterford in the city. But so much more is happening to counter recessionary induced forces of negativity. Waterford has a great wealth in its heritage and history. For too long it took this for granted and even where there was a general awareness there was a complacency induced inertia or should that read the other way round?
There undoubtedly have been other significant strides forward or seminal events over recent times looming large among them being Red Kettle and all things dramatic from the 80’s, followed by sprouting of Spraoi in the 90’s and into the ‘noughties’ with the Tall Ships. The emergence of the excellent Waterford Treasures at the Granary was also a significant milestone in mapping the city’s history. The exploits and achievements of the Waterford hurlers over this past decade has engendered a new pride too and a fighting spirit and the self belief that comes with it. The great thing that flows from that is that that positive spirit finds expressions in many new ways in building for the future.
Past, Present and Future Tense
To celebrate the arrival of this new Map of Waterford which will be valued and appreciated by locals as well as tourists this column will follow the walking trail it sets out around the city. We will be guided in our journey by some of the many Blue Plaques erected and managed by the excellent good work of the Waterford Civic Trust. Their purpose is to commemorate a link between a particular location and a famous person or event. Some of you may well be already familiar with all of this but I reckon there is something new, ranging from a little more to a lot more, to be learned by most us.
So let’s remind ourselves of the origins of our city ere we embark on our journey of One Thousand years of history in a Thousand paces….
Waterford is Ireland’s oldest City and is also older than all of the Northern European capitals with the exception of London and Paris. In 914, the great Viking adventurer and pirate, Regnall, a grand son of Ivor the Boneless, established a base here and built a longphort or ships’ haven, which in time would become a modern city. In 918, Regnall took a fleet of ships and left Waterford sailing for York in England. York (Jorvick) was then controlled by the Danish Vikings and was perhaps the most important city in the Viking world. After some fierce fighting, Regnall and his fleet captured York and he became the first Norse ruler of that city and held the title King of Waterford and York. The name Waterford is derived from its Viking name Vedrarfiord which has two possible meanings: haven from the windswept sea or fjords of the rams, a place where sheep or rams could be loaded for export.
The City was captured by the Anglo Normans in 1170 and the Vikings were expelled bringing about a dramatic change for the City. Within a few years of being captured, Waterford was escalated to the status of Royal City owing allegiance to the Anglo Norman King of England, Henry II. Modern day Waterford still retains six towers and the longest stretches of town walls from these periods which represents the largest collection of medieval defensive towers and walls in Ireland.
A Thousand Years in a Thousand Paces
So, let’s set out on our walking trail through our history, under the guidance of our wonderful new map. Our trail begins appropriately at the Waterford Museum of Treasures and follows a geographical rather than chronological path with a brief commentary at each location…..
1. Waterford Museum of Treasures: Located in a converted 19th century granary, the museum houses a unique exhibition that tells the story of Waterford City from its Viking origins to the modern day. (It also houses the Failte Ireland offices).
2. Garter Lane Arts Centre: The arts centre is housed in a former Quaker Meeting House that was built in 1792. The arts centre houses a theatre where there are performances of theatre, film and music.
3. Waterford Chamber of Commerce: The Waterford Chamber was originally built by John Roberts in the 1780’s as the town house of a wealthy merchant, William Morris.
4. St. Patrick’s Church, Chapel Lane: One of the finest surviving mid 18th century churches in Ireland and the oldest church in Waterford. St Patrick’s was built during a time in Ireland when the Catholic Church experienced a most severe persecution.
5. Beach Tower, Jenkins Lane: Built on a rocky outcrop that forms a natural defensive position, the Beach Tower has typical 15th century crenellations. During the medieval period, the area between the tower and the river was not developed and the tower commanded a great view of the River Suir.
6. John Roberts Square: Named in honour of the 18th century Waterford born architect and builder. Roberts designed both Catholic and Protestants cathedrals, City Hall, Chamber of Commerce and Newtown School.
We will resume our tourist trail next week.