When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 5: Pardon Me, Boys, is that the Waterford Choo-Choo?

Another day, another adventure.

Today we started things off by taking a ride on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway.  This 8.5 km train ride on an open car train takes you past the scenic River Suir (pronounced sure) as well as taking you to the land of the faerie folk.  At that stop one is supposed to make a wish.  It was a pleasant jaunt on a somewhat chilly morning.

We bused back to our hotel where we were given whispers (electronic listening devices) in preparation for a walking tour through Waterford.

Our guide for this tour was the affable Derek who was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide, if a bit blue in his language.  Our tour began right outside our hotel as immediately across the street was Reginald’s Tower which houses the Viking treasures of Waterford.  No, we didn’t actually go into the tower.

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Reginald’s Tower

From there it was off to the Medieval Museum.  The museum was actually built around the remains of a castle and held some amazing treasures.  Its rarest treasure was something that had been feared lost forever at one point.  Many moons ago, six priestly garments had been sewn out of solid gold.  It took 20 years to stitch these magnificent garments and they are worth many millions of dollars.  They are kept in glass cases with a special light to maintain them.  Pictures are allowed, but absolutely no flash photography is permitted as it will damage them.

Once we were through in the museum, we were taken to the 1743 Bishop’s Palace to learn a little more about Waterford’s history.  The ruler of this palace had been married to Letitia, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte.  As such, the palace holds a Napoleon Clock (one of 12 left in existence) and a piano owned and played on by Letitia.

The palace also holds an impressive collection of art and Waterford crystal.  Below you’ll note the pictures of a chandelier and a table filled with crystal glasses and cutlery.  The chandelier is worth 100,000 Euros, but every single item on the table is worth more than the chandelier.  Derek told us how to recognize Waterford crystal and had an anecdote about a Waterford cross he found on Ebay.  He instantly recognized it as being made out of Waterford crystal and bought it for a few Euros, but flipped it for 700 Euros.

The museum also holds the oldest piece of Waterford crystal on the planet.  It is a decanter that was made in the 1780s.

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The oldest piece of Waterford crystal in the world.

At the front of the museum, we meant Sean Egan who is a master glassmaker.  He had worked for The House of Waterford Crystal for 25 years before getting laid off when Ireland’s economy went bust in the early 2000s.  He immediately went across the street to the palace where he was given a place to continue making his beautiful works of art.  Egan’s designs have been sold all over the world.  One of his notable works was a 9/11 memorial he designed featuring the rescue of Father Mychal Judge from the rubble.  Replicas of that work are present in Egan’s shop as well as in The House of Waterford Crystal.

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When the tour ended we had a little break where I dashed off to a local shop to buy batteries for my camera as my recharger had bit the dust the previous night.  After purchasing a pack I had to quickly go back over the ground of the tour and get the photos that I couldn’t take the first time around.

Once getting my pics, I met the rest of the group at the Druids, a pub famed for its Irish Coffee.  Each of us got a free coffee.  Now I don’t drink the stuff, but decided to have this famed local drink and I was wired after drinking it.  The coffee in Ireland tends to be stronger than its American counterpart and I agree with that assessment as the brew certainly seemed to overpower the whiskey in the beverage.

With the break over, we headed over to The House of Waterford Crystal for a tour.  Aside from being famous worldwide, the company also makes the actual prizes for the People’s Choice Awards.  It was a fascinating tour as we watched glass blown, sanded, marked, and etched.  Getting a job in the field is also interesting as one is apprenticed to a master craftsman for five years.  After that time, the apprentice has to make an item in their particular area and, if it passes, he or she gets to study for another 3 years and is then bestowed the title of master craftsman.

When this tour ended, we had the rest of the day to ourselves before embarking on another optional excursion.

We traveled to the village of Dunmore East which is by the Celtic Sea and home to Spinnaker’s, the #1 ranked pub in Ireland.  I spent an evening eating a gourmet beef burger with chips, drinking a Killarney Rutting Red, and listening to the house singer, Skinner, sing a barrage of classic rock numbers.  Our group really began to bond on this outing as well as the bus trip back to the hotel.  On the ride home I entertained our group with an acapella rendition of Jim Croce’s “Operator” which got a rousing ovation.

But it was time for bed as our group would be changing locales again the next day.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 4: A Day of Horses, Beer, and Hunger

The new day marked our exit from Dublin.  After breakfast, our group of intrepid travelers boarded the bus and began the drive to our next destination.

I had forgotten the simple pleasure of riding on a bus.  Although we sometimes traveled for a few hours at a clip, the drives never seemed boring with the lovely scenery.  I especially enjoyed driving through the small towns and villages where I soaked in the small town life with the quaint homes, B & Bs, and pubs.

Our first stop that day was the town of Kildare where we stopped at the Irish National Stud farm.  For an institution known for breeding champion racehorses, I was surprised by how few horses the farm actually housed.  Only 8 horses were kept at the farm.  Our tour guide, Chris, was a fount of information about the history of the farm.

It was founded by Colonel William Hall-Walker who was the son of a famous Scottish brewer and was a bit of a ne’er-do-well until his father had the talk with him (shape up or ship out) and he took up a very successful career in breeding horses.  Aside from his love of horses, Hall-Walker also had a keen interest in Japanese culture and astrology.  He often used zodiac signs to determine breeding times and purchases, often to great success.  His love of Japan is reflected in the Stud’s famed Japanese Gardens where we spent a bit of time at the end of the tour.

 

From the Stud, we continued heading south to the town of Kilkenny, where we had a tour of Smithwick’s Experience, the most successful brewery in Ireland.

The brewery actually had an interesting history.  The brewing process used by Smithwick’s was actually inspired by monks.  The water in the region was too hard to be drinkable.  In order to be able to drink the water, the monks brewed the hard water into beer which made it drinkable.  The lime rock in the region was especially suitable to the unique brewing process.

The company was founded by John Smithwick, but the family name was unable to be used for 120 years.  In John Smithwick’s time, Irish laws prevented Roman Catholics from owning land or businesses.  Smithwick’s business partner had to front the business while he ran it quietly behind the scenes.  Once Daniel O’Connell, the Emancipator and personal friend of the Smithwick running the business at the time, got the legislation through that changed the laws, the family name could finally be used for the business.

At the end of the tour, free half pints were given to us to sample.  I tried a blonde ale, but probably should have gone with classic red ale as the blonde was too weak for my taste buds.

 

After the tour, we had a bit of time to tour the region.  Mom and I stopped in a pub where I had a toasted ham, cheese, and onion sandwich with some chips and Dad got temporarily lost.  Luckily, he found his way back in time for us to begin the trek to New Ross.

 

In New Ross, we visited the Dunbrody Famine Ship.  This was one of many boats that helped Irish citizens emigrate to the Americas during the Great Potato Famine.  It was a very informative tour about what life was like on the boats.  There were two classes of passengers:  cabin (first-class) and steerage (everybody else).  Life was hard on the boats as the poor steering class passengers would be crammed into a single bunk and permitted a half hour a day on the upper deck solely to cook.  Cabin passengers had it a bit better as they got private rooms and were able to spend more time on the upper deck.  It’s very possible that the crew had it the best, at least in terms of eating.  The crew was fed extremely well and was the only group to get meat as they needed the strength to sail the ship.  They were also paid well, but wouldn’t get paid until they returned to Ireland for fear that they would jump ship once the boat docked in the Americas.

 

After the tour of the boat, we returned to the boat and drove to our final destination of Waterford and to the Tower Hotel, our home for the next few days.  We got into our rooms and then went to the hotel dining room where I enjoyed a meal of roast lamb and vegetables.  The rest of the evening was left to ourselves as we readied for another day of adventures.

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Tower Hotel