We chose to have a car free day today and planned to explore the historic part of Waterford and the three museums which are so highly recommended.
We began at Reginalds Tower where the story of Waterford begins. Here, we received a warm welcome and the same happy news we’ve heard here and there throughout our trip – English Heritage cards allow for free admission. What a bargain! Except that for some reason, the reciprocal arrangement doesn’t work – the Irish Heritage members have to pay as normal when visiting English Heritage properties, which doesn’t seem right somehow. Perhaps I need to write a letter…
Anyway, here, we climbed another steep spiral staircase to the top, where we watched a good, clearly told video story of the beginnings of the city. A few remaining Viking treasures are displayed here in a really well crafted display.
One of the most important is this Kite Brooch from the twelfth century. Not much more than an inch or so across, I’d have liked to have taken a closer look at the construction – I’m wondering if it’s hinged in some way, to operate like a clasp? Or perhaps there’s just some kind of pin on the underside.
All three of the Museums are within a small triangle of the city so it was only short walk from the tower to our next stop in the chronology, the Medieval Museum.
Here, a guided tour was available on the hour, so we joined half a dozen others and set off with Teresa, who gave us a great overview of the main exhibits in this modern structure.
We started in the cellar and worked our way up, learning a little about the most treasured items in the collection as we went. Here, amidst the stories of Kings and Queens lay the long Waterford Charter Roll. I was struck by the way in which the pictures and text “pages” were sewn together in a kind of free form way and thought it really creative to combine so many pieces in this way. Nothing new under the sun, eh?
Glass surfaces and bright spotlights don’t make for the best photos, but it’s better than nothing!
The other lovely thing here was this ring, a 13th century piece of gold with four glass stones set in it, to be worn as a brooch and said to be the oldest such piece in Europe.
Actually, I almost forgot another of the treasures (what a good thing I take pictures!) This was Henry VIII’s hat! Embroidered with Marguerite daisies, it’s beautifully preserved if a little faded (it was red) and a really great shape for wearing with a crown (as you do).
Perhaps the greatest of the treasures were downstairs, however. A set of cloth of gold embroidered vestments donated to the church in the late 15th century and the only full surviving set, we were told. Remarkably well preserved, they had been hidden during a time of disturbance, each one placed carefully in a metal chest and buried underneath the cathedral. Only found over a hundred years later when the church was reconstructed, the air and water tight chests had preserved the vestments perfectly.
The colours were still surprisingly bright.
The detail upon each one incredible. I was also pleased to see them so well displayed, well lit and able to be seen from all directions. What treasures.
Close by was the chest in which one had been found. Having completed the tour, we returned to our favourite things to take photos before noticing that it was raining pretty hard outside. A good job we’d brought our raincoats and umbrellas, then. We looked forward to visiting the last of the three museums, but even though we had enjoyed a terrific Irish breakfast this morning, complete with porridge served with a slug of Muldoon’s and a pouring of cream over it (!) we were getting a little peckish and in need of a sit down.
So we went over to the Bishops Palace and enjoyed a spot of lunch before the first afternoon tour began.
We were greeted by Mr Whatwhy in the hall of the palace. A charming man with a distinct Irish twinkle in his voice, he gave us some of the background to the building before introducing us to Mrs Rickard, the housekeeper. What a delightful pair they were!
I think I’ve said before how awkward I find interacting with re-enactors, but these two were incredible. Between them, they told the story of the house and the contents in lovely lilting Irish voices.
Of course, there was plenty of Waterford Crystal to be seen, including a full dinner service set out on the dining table.
Leaning casually on the case containing the world’s oldest surviving piece, Mr Whatwhy entertained us all with his stories and a wealth of information.
My favourite piece had been the front door lock, which is a work of art in itself, don’t you think?
So that just about wraps it up for the city of Waterford. It has proved to be the surprise of the trip – we had no idea there were quite so many riches to be found in such a small area and have loved finding out about them all. Tomorrow, we’ll drive to our last stop of the trip and hope the weather will improve for us to enjoy the countryside and small towns of Wicklow.
Keep your fingers crossed for us please.