June 5-7, 2017
Waterford, located about two hours south of Dublin, is the oldest city in Ireland. Founded first by the Vikings in 914, the oldest building is Reginald’s Tower which was built in 1003 (the current tower wasn’t built until the mid 1200’s). Although it has a population of over 50,000 (including the suburbs), the core of Waterford is fairly concentrated and makes the town feel smaller. We stayed at the Waterford Marina Hotel which is just a couple of blocks from the Tower and waterfront. It was well-priced at under $100 CAD a night (we booked ahead), and offered free underground parking, a bonus in this town.
We left Dublin around 10am, and heading south on the M11, which runs a little closer to the ocean, and made our first brief stop in the town of Wicklow. It was fairly non-descript on this cloudy morning, but we enjoyed watching a bunch of kids catching crabs at the bridge. We went for a long on the pier and met an older gentleman who talked our ears off for about 15-20 minutes. It turned out he had worked at the Waterford Crystal factory for 30 years before being pensioned off early just before the slow-down, and he was a fount of information about the factory, the area of Wicklow and Waterford, and about life in general. Nearby are the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough County, which is supposed to be beautiful and well worth a visit.
We continued on our way, taking the N30 towards New Ross where we stopped briefly to see the Dunbrody Famine Ship. As it was pouring with rain, we took a couple of quick photos and then ran back to the car. It looked like it would have been a nice place to wander if the weather had been nicer. For €10 you can tour the ship and while I’m sure it would have been interesting, I’ve seen a couple of similar exhibits and decided to pass.
The plight of the Irish immigrant during the famine caused by a potato blight that started in 1845 is terribly sad and made me a little angry as well, as over 3,000,000 poor tenant farmers, who lived primarily on potatoes and water, were left to starve while the wealthy British landowners continued to exact steep rents and export vast quantities of food abroad despite starvation at home. Over a period of ten years, the population of Ireland dwindled by about 1,500,000 as many peasants died or escaped to North America on the “famine ships”. More detailed information about the famine can be found here.
We arrived in Waterford in late afternoon. As it was still pouring rain, we were happy to have underground parking although we did have to make the trek from the parking lot to the hotel outdoors. We were in desperate need of clean clothes so we packed up two day packs and drove to a coin operated laundry facility that was located under a narrow shelter at a gas station. It cost €4 for a load of wash and we got soaked just getting the laundry into the washer. We waited in a nearby mall for about an hour or so while it washed and dried. Unfortunately, our backpacks were now wet and we had to shove our dry clothes into the wet backpacks and get them into the car. Just one of the joys of travelling!
We had dinner at the hotel and stayed in because we didn’t feel like walking around town in the rain. The next morning, it was dryer, although still overcast. After breakfast, we went for a 30 minute drive to the coast (Annestown) and drove along the Copper Coast for about another 30 minutes, then looped back to Waterford. We stopped at several beautiful, yet empty beaches, and thoroughly enjoyed the countryside – the sun even peeked out a few times! It was exciting, if a little nerve-racking to wind along the single-track roads, with 6′ hedges along both sides, and never know when you are suddenly going to come around a corner and meet another car.
When we got back, we walked around the “Viking Triangle” near our hotel, then had a delicious lunch on the rooftop patio of the Reg Bar. In the late afternoon, we went on a tour of the House of Waterford Crystal which was really interesting, although a bit pricey (€23 for the 2 of us), as is the crystal itself. It was cool to see each stage of the making of the beautiful pieces, and I got lots of short videos. I especially liked seeing them taking the hot glob of glass out of the furnace and blowing it. In the showroom, we tried to find the most and least expensive pieces for sale. There was a shelf with some small items for €40-50 and the most expensive listed pieces was a fairy-tale styled carriage with four horses for about €40,000. Yowza!
Overall, I thought two nights in Waterford was warranted and I wouldn’t have wanted to have only had one afternoon to try to see everything. Now we are just hoping the weather turns around!
Next up: Kinsale, Ireland