Waterford, the oldest city in Ireland, is a small seaport in southeast Ireland that may be missed by travellers but I urge you to consider adding it to your Irish tour. Whether you stay at Waterford Castle on its private island in the River Suir (check it out!) or just spend the day in town, its a great place explore.
The city was founded in 914AD by Vikings. There are remnants of the ancient walls and an ancient tower built around 1000AD known as Reginald's Tower. The Tower is home to part of the Waterford Museum of Treasures, a collection of 3 museums within the Viking Triangle that narrate the 1100 years of history in the area.
This is also the home of the famed glass manufacturer Waterford Crystal. The story of Waterford Crystal began here in 1783 and has faced challenges and closures. Most Waterford glass is no longer manufactured here. Today the company’s facility near the historic district creates specialized work such as the PGA Tour of America trophy, the People’s Choice Award, and Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball and pieces for their gift shop and offers fascinating tours.
Waterford Crystal was first established by brothers George and William Penrose who wanted to "create the finest quality crystal for drinking vessels and objects of beauty for the home." The brothers experienced success until 1853 when the Irish economy faltered and the factory was closed. Almost a hundred years later the company was revived in 1947, based upon the Penrose brothers' designs and traditional patterns.
The tour begins in front of this beautiful hand-crafted crystal clock where the guide explains the history and mission of glass making in Waterford and the Waterford brand.
Traditionally, wooden moulds were used to create the shape of bowls and cups. Today, these wooden moulds are used only for unique items.
Elevated glass-fronted walkways allow visitors to have an excellent view of the factory area and the workers behind the glass. This is not a show, these people are doing their work as tourists file by.
A glass vase had just been blown and now it is being spun to ensure a perfect surface. The process for creating the glass shape is the same as seen in Murano, Italy but with more modern industrial equipment. (read Marvellous Murano)
After being spun, this young apprentice does a quality control check. At this point the glass is still hot and malleable, if the bowl isn't perfect it will be returned to the oven and the glassblower. Glass blowing is a dying art. Recognizing this, the local community is encouraging their young men to serve as apprentices.
After 3 days in a cooling kiln, the glass is ready for the artisans. This begins with grinding and bevelling the edges of a piece.
The next stage is to mark the precise cut points on the glass to guide the etchers and sculptors in the next stage.
The excess glass is removed by cutting or grinding. It is incredibly precise work that can be destroyed in an instant with a careless action or a piece of flawed glass.
Following the intricate work, the piece goes into an acid rinse to remove all roughness, and to make the glass sparkle clearly. This glass rugby ball for a tournament trophy sparkled brightly when held in a sunbeam.
Following the tour, we were led into the gift shop (of course, tours always end in the gift shop). What a treat of sparkling glass. The colours are vibrant; the clarity and quality of the glass is apparent in every beautiful display. Yes, the prices will make you gasp but there are affordable little pieces and seconds in the displays. For those who decide to splurge, shipping can be arranged.
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