Discover Waterford, the manufacturing centre of fine crystal
Situated on Waterford Harbour, one of the city's most striking features is its mile-long quayside lined with pastel-coloured houses, warehouses, cranes, and barges. Behind the quayside houses lies a maze of narrow streets and buildings, a reminder of Waterford's medieval past.
The oldest city in the Irish Republic was established by Viking raiders here in 853AD. Driven out by the native Irish some 50 years later, the Vikings returned in 914. They laid the foundations of what was to become Waterford.
Today, the name of Waterford is synonymous with quality glassware. In 1783, two brothers, George and William Penrose, started making high-quality flint glass, glass with a high refractive index akin to crystal. Hence the name 'Waterford Crystal' was born. Include Waterford in your Private Tour of Ireland.
1100 Years of History
A brief history of Waterford
Founded by the Vikings in the 9th century, Waterford is one of Ireland's oldest cities. They fortified the city with a wall and gateway, parts of which remain today. However, during an Anglo-Norman assault in 1170, the barrier was breached, and a bloody battle ensued. Victory for the invaders was cemented by King Henry II's visit the following year. Waterford was declared a Royal City.
Subsequently, the Normans embarked on a major wall-building project. Early in 1200, King John ordered that the city be strengthened, resulting in three new gates and towers built before 1212. Further fortifications saw the walls adapted to accommodate cannon.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Waterford was a busy port trading with England and France, Portugal, and Spain. One of the outcomes of the English civil war (held in defiance of Charles I) was the invasion of Ireland by Cromwell. Waterford was initially successful in resisting invasion in 1649 but was forced to surrender the following year.
The city walls
Over time, advances in armaments rendered cannon redundant. In the early 18th century, the medieval gates and walls became a hindrance, and the walls were demolished. Fortunately for us, six towers and sections of the wall remain today.
Waterford enjoyed considerable prosperity during the 18th century. The port, Irelands deepest and closest to Europe, became an important trading centre. Waterford Crystal employed thousands of people. Agriculture, and especially cheese production, became increasingly important.
Waterford Crystal Glass
Despite manufacturing a world-class product, it was not enough to avoid a bumpy ride for the Waterford Crystal Company.
The Penrose Brothers
The Penrose brothers started making a glass of excellent purity in 1783. Their secret formula enabled crystal-clear glass of considerable thickness that allowed deep cutting patterns and designs to be produced with intense light-reflecting qualities. The business quickly established an enviable reputation and, for some 68 years, flourished. At the Great Exhibition of 1851, they achieved several gold medals. However, by the end of that year, the business had folded due to underfunding and crippling taxation.
Almost 100 years later, a small factory was set up in Waterford to reproduce special quality glass. The company grew to be the largest of its kind in the world, producing beautifully handcrafted, quality glassware appreciated the world over. In 1990 sales amounted to £86.96 million, much of that turnover generated by sales in North America.
Disaster struck in 2009; the company ran into trouble and went into receivership. It reopened under new owners in 2010 and continues production today. Their manufacturing process uses many of the same methods, as it was in 1783 at the start of the business.
A factory tour takes you through the fascinating process, which starts with a mix of unpromising looking raw materials, including silica sand, litharge (lead monoxide), and potash. The mixture is then put into a furnace and transformed into glowing balls of molten crystal. Master artisans create and sculpt exquisite glassware.
As you might expect, there's a showroom selling beautiful crystal glassware. Don't hope that you'll be able to buy cut-price 'seconds' though; anything less than perfect is destroyed.
Highlights of Waterford
Reginald's Tower was part of the early defences and the oldest building in Ireland. Over time it has served as a royal residence, a mint, and a jail. It is now home to a fascinating Civic and Maritime Museum housing many ancient artefacts and charters.
The French Church
Nearby are the Tower and ruins of the French Church, founded in 1240 as a Franciscan friary, amazingly survived the dissolution-of-the-monasteries, and in 1695 became the place of worship for Huguenot refugees – hence its name. Another ruin is Blackfriars Abbey. Built-in 1226, it survived 300 years as a Dominican foundation.
St Patrick's Catholic Church
Not to be missed is the 1750 St Patricks Catholic Church, the oldest in County Waterford. At one point, it served as a corn store and was used as a place of worship by the Jesuits anxious to avoid prosecution under the penal laws of 1695.
Touring and accommodation
Waterford is featured in our Classic Ireland Tour. However, we can always customise our tours to reflect any specific interests or requirements you may have.
Less than an hour's drive away is Kilkenny's medieval town, a fascinating place to explore on foot. The 12th century Kilkenny Castle at the end of the High Street is well worth a visit, as is St Canice's Cathedral, a 13th-century building with a round tower. A climb to the top of the Tower rewards you with panoramic views over Kilkenny.
Waterford is only 40 minutes drive from Mount Juliet Hotel and Estate, our recommended accommodation. Mount Juliet offers world-class facilities, a golf course, spa and a 500-acre estate to explore on horseback if preferred.
Making Crystal Since 1783
The Home of Fine Crystal
- Private Tours of Waterford Crystal Factory
- Award Winning Store of the Year
- Afternoon Tea Available
- Irish Tourism Award 2019
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