Irish Travels: Waterford Crystal and spectacular Rock of Cashel cathedral ruins

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We woke up our second day feeling refreshed and ready to explore. After a lovely breakfast at our BnB, Diamond Hill Country House, we set out for Waterford to check out the crystal factory and sights. Once in town we discovered our digital SLR camera was out of batteries because someone left it on. (My bad). Womp womp. A shopkeeper offered to let us charge the battery at his store, and we weren’t even buying anything!  So most of the Waterford pictures I have were mostly taken with our backup point and shoot camera, which I was glad I brought along.

We stopped at a bakery to buy some fresh bread for our picnic lunch and the baker told us we must definitely see the artisans making colored blown glass figurines and such at a particular glassworks. He proceeded to give us some rather convoluted directions to said glass blowing place and we had trouble following them. (Asking the Irish for directions is always interesting.) Just as we were about to give up, by some stroke of luck, we stumbled upon it and were so glad that we did.

I watched one of the craftsman make a blown glass penguin with blue and clear glass inside the studio. After he finished, I joined Wes over in front of one of the display cases which was filled with fire department memorabilia and the most remarkable engraved glass sculpture.

The artist, Sean Egan, noticed our interest and came over to talk with us. It turns out that he used to be an engraver with Waterford Crystal, but when the manufacturing in Waterford shut down in 2009, he was laid off. Soon after, he started his own glassworks, Sean Egan Art Glass. When Waterford wanted him to come back, he actually turned them down. While he was still with Waterford he worked on a larger version of the same engraved sculpture that was in front of us. The sculpture was a 9/11 tribute, depicting the FDNY firefighters carrying the body of fire department Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge from the steel wreckage. Sean told us how that when 9/11 happened, we Americans thought that we were all alone. But every other country felt for us, stood with us. The Irish stood with us.  I was so touched, I actually cried.

There’s some better photos on Sean’s website, Sean Egan Art Glass. Here’s an article about Sean donating one of the sculptures to FDNY.

In 2009, Waterford Crystal closed down their big factory and outsourced most of their crystal making. Most of the specialty commissioned pieces are still created at the scaled down factory in Ireland, though I suspect that this is mostly so the visitor tour can operate. The tour is regularly 12 euro, but if you stop in at the tourist office, you can get a county guide with a 2 for 1 coupon. For the 2 for 1 price, it was worth it.

We watched the craftsmen blow glass bowls and sand off the rough edges.

Next they marked lines on each pieces and engraved them by hand. There are a finite number of engraving patterns that each craftsman learns as an apprentice (I think it was 6 or 7) and these patterns can be used in different combinations to make an infinite number of different designs.

  

The neatest things they made were some of the custom pieces. They use wood molds for stuff they are only making one or a few of. There was even a crystal fire helmet that was actually commissioned for Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera (below right).  I liked the Cinderella carriage too.

  

Oh my god-the gift shop. Major candelier envy. Someday I want to own a set of cut crystal wine glasses. Everything was really just stunning. We’ll take one of each, thanks.

On our way out of Waterford we happened to drive past the fire station. Being huge dorks, of course we stopped. The guys were happy to show us around and let us take pictures. Actually, they insisted on taking our picture. And then they gave me a t-shirt. Seriously, the Irish are the nicest people on the planet.

We left Waterford and detoured inland to visit the spectacular Rock of Cashel cathedral ruins. And was the detour worth it. These ruins were the most spectacular man-made thing we saw on our entire trip. I think it was only 6 euro to enter. The ruins are perched up on a big hill overlooking the town and countryside. The cathedral was fought over for hundreds of years until 1101 when Mutagh O’Brien strategically donated it to the church.

The scale of the ruins is hard to convey in a photograph, but I’m going to try. This is a view from inside the main cathedral, looking up.

The exterior of Cormac’s Chapel was being restored when we visited, but you could still go inside to view the frescoes (rare in Ireland) and stonework. The frescoes were covered with whitewash at one time and were painstakingly restored. The archway below is actually covered with little heads. Supposedly their expressions get more angelic as they go up, but I think they all look a little creepy.

My favorite part was the huge corner of the wall that fell in 1848 during what they called “Night of the Big Wind.”

It wasn’t just the scale of the place, but the detail work too. Apparently, whenever I see intricately carved stone I have to touch it.

The ruins were surrounded by old gravestones, idyllic pastures, and even more ruins (outside the stone wall, see picture at the top of this post). Inside the mini museum was a photo and the guestbook that Queen Elizabeth signed when she visited in 2011. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “So what, what’s the big deal?” Well, it was a freaking big deal. Prior to the Queen’s visit in 2011, no British monarch had visited Ireland since Irish independence 100 years before. I’ll tell you more about what we learned about Irish history when we get to Dublin. Also found in the museum-more cowbell?

  

We tried to visit the Jameson Distillery for a tour, but just missed the last one. I was sort of fascinated by this bottle light fixture in the gift shop. No whiskey tasting for us-on to Kinsale.

When we arrived in Kinsale we dropped off our stuff at our BnB,  The Olde Bakery. The house was charming and host Chrissie was so sweet and happy to welcome us. We had dinner at The Stolen Pizza, which was conveniently right across the street and deliciously amazing. Very reasonably priced, we enjoyed one of the specials which was a seafood pasta dish. The restaurant seemed a little understaffed, but we didn’t mind lingering in the cozy restaurant. You come in on the top floor of a loft and look down over the seated diners surrounded by stone walls with a fireplace at the front of the room. They had a spectacular chandelier too. (Anyone else noticing my sudden fascination with light fixtures?) Anyway-really just a very nice setting. The photo below is the best the point and shoot could do-showing the view from the loft.

After dinner we explored town a bit. We window shopped through a light drizzle (most of the stores were closed as it was late). Wes admired this print.

I liked the brightly colored buildings and architectural details like these hinges.

  

At the pub, I attempted to drink an entire pint of Bulmers. An English pint is 23 ounces, so quit judging me. It was a lot. From here on, I stuck to a “glass” which is half a pint (or just went with the Bailey’s and coffee. Mmm.)

If you’ve ever had the hard apple cider Magners here in the states, Bulmers is the same thing. The bartender told us when the company went to export the cider to England, they already had a cider named Bulmers there (small world I guess), so they had to change the name to Magners for export. Logo and lettering are exactly the same, just the different name! After a nightcap, we walked back along the harbor and up the hill to our BnB.

Following our progress on the map, we’ve made our second stopover in Kinsale.

Coming up: Exploring Charles Fort in Kinsale, traveling by boat to Garnish Island, our first mountain pass, stopping through Kenmare, an adorable market town, and our first listen to traditional music while overnighting in Dingle.

Cheers,

Christine

You might also like:  Pack your suitcase: IrelandIrish Travels: a castle, monastic ruins, and winding roads

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3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Day 3: Kinsale to Dingle « all in good spirits

  2. Pingback: Day 4: Dingle to Ennis « all in good spirits

  3. Pingback: Irish Travels: Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and Galway « all in good spirits

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