Travelogue Ireland 3: Waterford

WATERFORD

19 November 2017

Waterford was a detour daytrip added to our itinerary once we’d spoken to my folks who had been (some 24 years ago) on their own roadtrip. A quick Google revealed that the pretty coastal town had 3 main things to offer – the world-famous crystal, the historically significant Viking Triangle and the “blaa” (a bready doughy thing that definitely seemed worth a try).

Leaving Kilkenny a little later than expected, we were delighted to find that Waterford was not only a mere 48km from Kilkenny, but it was also double lane freeway all the way.

Barely half an hour later, there we were. In Waterford!

Waterford claims to be Ireland’s oldest city, over 1100 years old, having been settled by Regnall (Anglicised to Reginald), the Viking adventurer and pirate in 914. He established a base, named it Veorafjorer (“haven from the windswept sea”), built a ‘longphort’ dock, made himself king and then took a fleet of ships and sailed to York, conquered it and became the first Norse king of York as well.

Waterford has embraced that story and created The Waterford Viking Triangle; a compact historical adventure in the old town with a concentration of things steeped in history to see and do.

We parked on the quay and made our way to the apex of the triangle to start with Reginald’s Tower; the oldest civic building, going back to 947AD, which now houses a Viking exhibition inside and a 40 foot replica Viking longboat outside.

We arrived at exactly midday, which the signboard outside advised was the start of Storytelling. Serendipitously, entrance to the Tower was free for the day, as part of some Winter celebration, so we went all the way to the top… And then did a rapid about-turn when we were faced with the storyteller; a lady in a heavy velvet cape and hat, wielding a ukelele. She’d already started plinketty-plonking and warbling the story. I think Christian might have thrown himself from the top of the tower if I’d subjected him to that for the full hour!

We did have a squizz at the other exhibits on the lower floors which gave us some insight into the who’s who and what’s what.

It’s a pity that Waterford’s Epic Walking Tour only runs in summer as we’d have liked to do that since it seems to hit the whole Triangle and it would have been nice to have some details (and anecdotes)… But we made do with our own makeshift walking tour, armed with a free map from the Medieval Museum.

The triangle is so compact that it’s more of a ‘pivot’ tour with short bursts of walking in between. Emerging from the Medieval Museum, we did the first pivot with the Royal Theatre, Mayors’ Treasury and King of Vikings virtual reality experience to the right and Bishops Palace and Christ Church Cathedral to the left.

We went left and took a cheesy snap at the Strongbow and Aoife interactive sculpture – a set of bronze throne chairs.

Strongbow was a Norman Lord (Richard Fitzgilbert De Clare) who was recruited by the King of Leinster who had made a poor political choice and – adding insult to injury – had abducted another regional king’s wife and thus fled to England. He wasn’t having much success enlisting support until he happened upon Strongbow who took a fancy to the King’s daughter, Aoife, and put together an army of men to send to Ireland to help the King regain his land, which they were able to do… And then some. Seems like the Normans and Irish got on better than either did with the English so perhaps not so smart on the King’s part to jump out of the pan and into the flames.

On a more somber note, the next photo opportunity was the John Condon memorial; a bronze sculpture in Cathedral Square commemorating the outbreak of World War I, which claimed the lives of more than 1100 Waterford men and women, including the youngest soldier to die in the war at just 14 years old.

On that note we concluded the tour with a visit to the famous House of Waterford Crystal and its lavish retail store that holds the largest collection of Waterford Crystal in the world – hardly surprising, looking at the price tags! Needless to say, the only keepsake we came away from the crystal shop with are lovely memories and a photograph for the annals.

Sadly, we came up dry on the third goal for the day, based on our Googling turning up that these ‘blaa’ bread rolls are a bakery thing and there were no bakeries open, being a Sunday afternoon.

Still, as they say, 2 outta 3 ain’t bad and we felt we’d had enough Waterford experience to have been more than worthwhile, so we hit the road for the next stop on our Epic Ireland Roadtrip Experience (EIRE).