Did you know that Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city with a rich history from its Viking founders? Did you know the Irish tricolor flag was first raised in Waterford by Thomas Meagher? And Thomas Meagher went on to become the first Governor of Montana? Oh, and don’t miss the Waterford Crystal factory and, best of all, the one-hour overview Waterford City Walking Tour with Jack Burtchaell! Listen to Jack on the podcast accompanying this post by clicking below:
Get to know Ireland’s oldest city by spending a day or more seeing the sights in Waterford, Ireland, an easy 2-hour trip from Dublin via train or car. Many people know about Waterford’s world-class crystal factory and store by the same name, but there is much more to this city.
Even before the Vikings came to Waterford in 914 AD there were native Irish living in the area. The Vikings named their new town Vdrarfjordr, Norse for “windy fjord,” in reference to its safe haven from Ireland’s windy seas. The native Irish adopted the name but “Vdrarfjordr” sounded like “Waterford” to their ears, so that is how the city got its name.
Waterford City Walking Tour:
I learned much of what I know about Waterford from walking tours with Jack Burtchaell. If you get to Waterford, do not miss taking one of his one-hour walking tours. At only 7 Euros per person, this will be the highlight of your day. You may see some of the same sights I describe below, but you will enjoy each sight much more with the wit and humor of Jack! Listen for yourself on the accompanying podcast, “Waterford, Ireland: Things to Do with Walking Tour, One Perfect Day in Travel Podcast #26.”
Waterford’s town center is small, so it is easy to visit the sights in more detail before or after your walking tour with Jack. I have included maps from the website www.walkli.com, so follow along there as you come back to visit the sights in more detail.
1-A-Granville Hotel – Consider staying at the historic Granville Hotel, where the Waterford City Walking Tour begins with Jack Bertchall. Begin this self-guided walk from the same location. The beautifully restored Granville Hotel dates back to the 1700s and has figured prominently in the history of Waterford. Thomas Meagher (pronounced “Mawr”) was born at the hotel in 1823. Thomas was a Catholic and a leader of the young revolutionaries leading the charge of independence against Protestant Britain. We will come back to Thomas Meagher at the end of this walk. For now, admire the rich architecture of the hotel. Walk inside to see the historic lobby. If you are able to stay overnight in Waterford, this is the place to be. The hotel has an excellent reasonably priced restaurant, a selection of rooms in a variety of price ranges, and is located right on the river affording nice views for the rooms facing the water. The hotel does not have air conditioning, but this should not be needed most of the year in Ireland. Room prices range from about 100 Euros per night for a standard room to about 150 Euros per night for a water view room during the lower priced seasons of the year and are slightly higher in summer and at holiday times.
Granville Hotel address: Meagher Quay, Waterford, Ireland
Directions: To reach the Granville Hotel from the train station, walk across the bridge over the river and turn left. The Granville will be on your right facing the water. If arriving by car, park in the large public parking lot directly across the street from the Granville on the waterfront.
2-B-Clock Tower – Exit the hotel lobby and turn to the right where you will see the Waterford Clock Tower on the waterfront at the intersection with Barronstrand Street. The Gothic revival tower was erected in 1863 when it became important for everyone to have accurate time for the growing train travel. Many people did not have the money to buy watches, so as train travel grew many towns erected clock towers to help people know the accurate time.
3-C-Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity – From the clock tower, walk away from the waterfront on Barronstrand Street until you reach the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity on the left. Waterford’s Catholic cathedral is Ireland’s oldest cathedral. It was built in 1793 by Waterford native John Roberts, a Protestant. Roberts is distinguished as the only architect to have built both the Catholic and Protestant churches in any city in Ireland. He also built Waterford’s Protestant Christ Church Cathedral. Step inside the cathedral to admire its beautiful interior, including its ten Waterford crystal chandeliers.
4-D-Blackfriars Abbey – Turn left at Blackfriars at the first corner past the cathedral, walk one block and turn left again on Conduit Lane. The ruins of Blackfriars Abbey will be on the left. Blackfriars was founded by a Dominican order in the 1200’s on the site of Arundel’s Castle, incorporating the remaining ruin of the castle’s tower. The Dominicans wore black habits, giving the name to “black friars” abbey. The intellectual, scholarly Dominicans educated the children of Waterford’s merchants. Notable among the friars was Geoffrey of Waterford, a master of Greek, Arabic, Latin and French. He traveled extensively in the East and lived in France for a long time, as well.
5-E-City Square Shopping Centre Murals – Walk back toward the corner and turn left on High Street. The entire block on your right is the large, modern City Square Shopping Centre. As you approach Olaf Street, notice the tile murals on the walls of the shopping center. These murals were found during excavations in the city. They depict actual citizens of Waterford during the early 1800s. Since this was just before the industrial revolution came to Ireland, this is the last time in history that most of the clothing worn by the citizens and work being done used products from Waterford.
6-F-St. Olaf’s Church – Turn right at the corner at Olaf Street. Walk one block, and look for the small door on the side of St. Olaf’s Church on your left facing Olaf Street at the intersection with Peter Street. This lower level of St. Olaf’s was built by the Vikings when they converted to Christianity about one hundred years after they founded Waterford. At that time the Gaelic chieftains of Ireland refused to trade with Vikings, because they were not Christians. So, many Vikings originally became Christians for mercenary reasons. Notice the height of the entryway to this side door to the original Viking church. Contrary to common belief, the Vikings that lived in Ireland were clearly not tall giants! Turn left at Peter Street to see the entrance to the newer church of St. Olaf that was built in 1734 over the original Viking church.
7-G-Christ Church Cathedral
Walk on Peter Street to the intersection with Henrietta Street and turn right. Christ Church Cathedral will be on your left in Cathedral Square. Described by Mark Girouard, a noted architectural historian, as the finest 18th Century ecclesiastical building in Ireland, this cathedral was designed and built by John Roberts. It was built prior to his design of Waterford’s Catholic cathedral.
Walk around the side of Cathedral Square to the large building, Medieval Museum of Treasures. Ireland’s only museum built exclusively for highlighting medieval treasures incorporates two medieval chambers, the 13th century Choristers’ Hall and the 15th century Mayor’s Wine Vault. The museum is open daily. Regular adult priced tickets for the 45-minuted guided tour are 7 Euros.
From the Medieval Museum, exit Cathedral Square on Greyfriars Street and veer to the right on Bailey’s New Street. On your left will be the ruins of Greyfriars Church. This National Monument was a Franciscan Friary founded in 1241 that was later used as a hospital for the people of Waterford.
Continue walking toward the waterfront on Bailey’s New Street. When you reach the waterfront, at The Mall, Reginald’s Tower will be on the right. This Viking tower dates to the 1100’s and is the only monument in Ireland named in honor of a Viking.
The interior of the tower houses a museum that displays the only full set of weapons from a Viking warriors grave in Ireland and a famous 12th century gold and silver Waterford Kite Brooch. An audiovisual presentation on the top floor tells the history of the tower from 914 to the present. The museum is open daily except Mondays and Tuesdays in January, February and early March. Regular priced adult admission is 5 Euros.
11-K-Waterford Waterfront – Walk across The Mall to the waterfront. This is a particularly nice stretch of the waterfront, because it is beyond the parking area that begins along The Quay. There are some benches along the waterfront here where you may want to stop and rest.
12-L-Theatre Royal Waterford – Walk back across the street and continue walking away from the waterfront on the right side of the large street, The Mall. You will soon come to the Theatre Royal on the right. Known as “the people’s theatre” of Waterford, artists come from all over Ireland and overseas to work with Waterford local talent to present plays and other performances. Check out upcoming performances at the official website: http://www.theatreroyal.ie
13-M-Waterford Crystal Experience – Waterford’s world-famous crystal experience is across The Mall from the Theatre Royal. Take a tour of the factory where the most exclusive pieces of Waterford crystal are still made, visit the showroom, or have a snack or a meal at the café under Waterford crystal chandeliers. Tours are offered daily, except for Sundays in January and February for the regular adult admission price of 13.50 Euros. For more information and updates, check the official Waterford Visitor Centre website: https://www.waterfordvisitorcentre.com
14-N-Thirty-Three The Mall – Stay on the same side of the street and walk back toward the waterfront on The Mall. At Number 33, now Anchor Spirits, you will be standing in front of the spot where Thomas Meagher first unfurled what is now the flag of Ireland. Thomas traveled to France in 1848 as a delegate for the Young Irelanders who were rebelling against Britain’s rule. He brought back the tricolored flag of green, orange and white. He told the citizens of Waterford that the green color was for the Irish (Gaelic) Catholic natives, the orange for the English Protestants who had moved to Ireland, and the white for peace. Thomas Meagher was eventually arrested and banished to Tasmania. He later escaped and made his way to the United States where he became a general in the Union Army during the Civil War, the first Governor of Montana, and served as a pallbearer at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. The tricolored flag eventually became the official flag of Ireland after the country won its independence from Britain, long after Thomas Meagher’s death in 1867.
Remember to listen to the podcast for even more information and to hear my interview with Waterford City Walking Tour guide Jack Burtchaell.
Jack Burtchaell, Waterford City Walking Tour – Details:
The tour leaves from the Waterford Tourist Office at 11:45 am and 1:45 pm daily or from the Granville Hotel at noon and 2:00 pm daily. The tour lasts one hour from the Granville Hotel. There is no need to make a reservation. Just show up at either location to begin the tour.
1 hour – 7 Euros per person, mid-March through mid-October only
For more Ireland highlights, check out my post and podcast about the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin at this link:
Until next time, I hope all of your travel days are just perfect!