Memory Lane: Waterford City

Posted: 11/11/2020 13:20:12

For this instalment of historical wanderings we will be departing from where we left off by hopping on an Irish Rail service at McDonagh Station in Kilkenny. We will then travel two stops to the end of the line and alight at Plunkett Station, which is situated in this month’s Memory Lane location – Waterford City.
Waterford City
Early History
Regarded as the main urban conurbation in Ireland’s South-East, we have to travel back to 914 which is when Archaeologists reckon the present day city was formed. The fact that it is the area where the Rivers commonly known “The Three Sisters” -The Suir, The Nore and The Barrow meet obviously had a big role to play the Vikings deciding to settle here. The area where Reginald’s Tower now stands is reckoned to be the spot where first settlement began.

The expanded settlement fell into Norman hands around 1170 whereupon King Henry II declared it a “Royal City” and the first protective wall was built. These basic fortifications were strengthened further under the rule of his son King John, which he deemed a necessity owing to the repeated attacks on the city by the armies of various Gaelic Chieftains located in Munster.

The first mention of Reginald’s Tower can be found in the famous literary work known as “The Annals of George of Wales” written at the time, which chronicled the Norman conquest of the Island of Ireland. He was an archdeacon from the Brecon area of Wales and he travelled with Prince John as the King’s song oversaw the expansion of his father’s power base.

Reginalds Tower WaterfordReginald’s Tower is the only structure in the country named after a Viking King Rǫgnvaldr who ruled the city for a while. It played an important role in ensuring the cities inhabitants were kept safe as the threat of attack from the Gaelic Irish was a constant in peoples’ minds.
The Tower today contains a display of tools from a Viking grave that was unearthed during excavations alongside other artefacts from Viking and Norman times.

The Port
Another well-known part of the city is it’s Port. It owes its origins to a Viking King named Sitric who was the first to oversee the creation of an area where Viking ships could safely shelter during the winter. While it might surprise people to know that the port of New Ross upstream on The Barrow was for a long time the bigger more important unloading spot than Waterford, as it is more convenient to transport goods onwards from the Wexford town. However as ships and the cargo they held grew in size The ‘Deise’ facility snatched back it’s crown which it well and truly holds to this day.

Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity
No city is complete without a grand Cathedral where the inhabitants can worship and Waterford is no exception. It was constructed in 1793 and is regarded as the oldest Cathedral still inexistence in this country. The Chapel underwent massive refurbishment in 1977, with the centrepiece being 10 magnificent Chandeliers that were donated by Waterford Crystal.

Waterford Crystal
Known all over the world for its exquisite glassware, Waterford Crystal began life in 1783 when George and William Penrose secured permission to open up a factory making glass flint in the city.
By the time of World War II the business had all but shut when a Czech immigrant Charles Bacik arrived on the shores of the Barrow and resumed glassmaking in a factory that was located 1.5 miles from the original. (His granddaughter is the Senator and Trinity College Dublin Law Lecturer Ivana Bacik).

So good was the quality of the items they created, such as glass bowls, candle holders and chandeliers, that in 1970 they opened a new facility of over 4000,000 feet (10 acres) which at the time was the largest manufacturing facility in the world. While the factory closed a few years ago the Waterford Crystal Visitor Experience remains open, which still enthrals visitors who pop by.

Plunkett Train Station
Plunkett Train Stattion WaterfordEarlier we alighted at Plunkett Train Station which owes its origin to the decision in 1966 to name Irish train stations after key persons involved in the Easter Rising, as part of the events marking 50 years since that event.

Joseph Mary Plunkett was born in Dublin in 1887, his father Horace was a Papal Count and thus it would be no surprise to learn they were a very religious family. JMP had a bit of a wanderlust about him and he travelled a fair bit while also writing and earning a crust as an editor.

In 1915 he returned to Dublin and was anointed as one of the people tasked with the military planning that led to what has become known as the “1916 Rising”. He was to be based in the General Post Office (GPO) during the insurrection and was interred along with many others in Richmond Barracks in its aftermath. In a story immortalised in the song ‘Grace’ he was to marry his sweetheart Grace Gifford in Kilmainham Jail just hours before he was slain by a British Army firing squad.

Waterford Football
For those with an interest in sporting matters, Waterford Football Club/United have been a key fixture in the city, the centrepiece of the impressive Regional Sports Centre just outside the city centre. The club first entered the League of Ireland in 1930 and won its first piece of Silverware in the 1935-36 season when it claimed the League of Ireland Shield.

In the 1965-66 season Paddy Coad obtained legendary status amongst the locals when he guided Waterford FC to its first ever league title. They obtained a sensational league treble win from 1968 to 1971 and it saw the giants of Manchester United come Landsdowne Road for a European Cup tie. It was the first time ever that a soccer match was played at the Dublin 4 venue. It was the first European fixture ‘The Red Devils’ played in since they had won the European Cup at Wembley.

While Waterford lost the game 3-1, the 48,000 people still left the ground in a great mood having actually witnessed the likes of Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton with their own eyes.

In recent years as the By-Pass was being built a lot of artefacts were found that originated from the Viking settlement of the city.Thus what is regarded as the oldest inhabited urban settlement in Ireland has continued to adapt while by and large retaining it’s olde world charm.

With the opening of the new Kennedy Bridge and the recent opening of The River Suir Bridge the massive tailbacks one used to experience trying to get in and out of the city have largely vanished. With such lovely cafés and picturesque streets and squares to wander around, why not pit this part of Ireland’s Sunny-South East on your to-visit list?

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