Waterford is by far the largest town in the Southeast and one of the few prospering industrial centres in the Republic, with a grand history and plenty to explore. This is essentially a Viking city, with many reminders of this period of it history among the buildings lying immediately behind the waterfront. Reginald’s Tower (now the Civic and Maritime Museum) was built in 1003 as part of the old city walls, and served subsequently as royal residence, fortress, mint, prison, and air-raid shelter. One of Waterford’s most interesting recent developments is the heritage centre housed in the disused church of St Peter’s in Greyfriars Street, where the best finds from Waterford’s Viking and medieval past (excavated during preparations for a new shopping centre) are excellently displayed.
The history of Waterford glass started in the late 18th century, when George and William Penrose set up a factory here in 1783. It thrived for 68 years, before the disastrous economic conditions of 1851 caused its closure, and it would be another century before Waterford once again became a flourishing centre for glassworks. Basic ingredients of glass are silica and potash; lead crystal also requires a significant quantity of lead oxide in powder form. The lead gives the glass its particular qualities of brilliance and capacity to refract light, and also makes it very heavy. The ingredients are heated to 1200°C over many hours, then hand-blown and skillfully shaped before cooling. Finally the glass is cut with deep grid-like patterns, the air filling with minute particles and the screech of carborundum and diamond wheels. You will see Waterford Crystal in grand houses throughout Ireland; today, a modern version of one of those glittering droplet chandeliers will knock you back several thousand Euro.
Tours of Ireland with Ireland Luxury Tours try to encourage visits to such places.