The crystal city

We have arrived in the ancient city of Waterford, Ireland’s oldest. Inhabited for several thousand years, it was invaded by the Vikings in the 10th century. In a departure from their norm, they stayed and intermarried with the Irish, and were still there when the city was taken over by the Anglo-Norman invaders of the 12th century.

Once under English rule, Waterford was visited by both Henry II and later King John and Richard II, as it was considered very important militarily. Since then it has seen sieges, invasions, famine and economic highs and lows. It remains the foremost city in Ireland’s south-east.

One major attraction, of course, is the Waterford Crystal works, which we toured on our arrival. There still seems to be a passion for the craftsmanship that has been their hallmark since the brand was resurrected in 1947, after a 100-year hiatus. Things seem to be going strong.

Did you see the People’s Choice awards being engraved, Roy William’s face being carved onto a basketball and the custom forms for items of Barack Obama and Justin Timberlake? They were all there.

We next did a walking tour of the town, with a lovely wry Irishman, Jack, who danced us around with great commentary. We were reminded that the great surge in public clock building in the mid-19th century was due to the boom in train transportation, combined with the rareness of personal watches. One needed to be at the station at quite specific times!

There are two major cathedrals in Waterford, one Catholic and one Anglican – but both designed by the same architect. The Catholic one was the first built (1793) once the ban on Irish churches was lifted, and it is the oldest in Ireland. (The French Revolution scared the English into relaxing a few laws.) Its ten Waterford crystal chandeliers were unique patterns, never since reproduced.

The Anglican church is a bit unusual, and seems like a marriage between Waterford and Wedgwood.

Lots of other things to see. Who knew that Raymond Chandler lived here? The tower was built of stone by King John to fortify the Viking tower that has been here and in use for 1000 years. With that as a focal point, the life of the city swirls around it, with great energy.

Don’s Food Corner

After a few days of Modern Irish food, today we returned to Traditional Irish food — with a vengeance.  We went to a “carvery,” which for the uninitiated, is a place that features great hunks of meat (joints) that are sliced up to order, arranged on a plate that is then piled high with various forms of potatoes (roasted, mashed and fried) and the usual suspects in the vegetable category (carrots, turnips, rutabaga).  Add a little stuffing and pour thick gravy all over and you get the idea of where mainstay American meals came from.

I chose roast lamb for the meat portion of this huge meal.  I fear the lamb was overdone and tough.  Maybe it came from one of those mountain sheep we’ve seen climbing up all those steep hills of Ireland.  Jo had beef in a whiskey sauce over rice.

The portions were huge, the price was low and the place was packed with locals with very few tourists in sight.  It was a real Irish experience topped only by a trip this evening to the hotel pub where there were some Irish folk downing more than a few pints and singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” at the top of their lungs.

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