Friday, April 18, 2014

Travels with Dad: Waterford Wonders

Dad showing two basic glass cuts.
As I may have mentioned yesterday, it was the highlight of the trip for Dad today, and an incredibly educational experience for me, as well, watching how this exquisite and world-renowned crystal is created from start to finish. I have put pretty much the entire process on my Facebook Page, for any interested parties.

The photo at the top is of Dad holding a glass that demonstrates the two basic glass cuts used in Waterford Crystal: The flat cut (the oval shapes on top) and the diamond cut (the bottom, Lismore Design).

The crystal works here have had a long and bankruptcy-filled history. The business was started by the Penrose Brothers in the late 1700s, who made their fortune selling salt-pork to the shipping industry. They realized that Ireland was one of the few countries that had no tax on exporting luxury items, and the amount of raw natural resources was plentiful for making glass, so they were off and running. They made a fortune and built a strong reputation for themselves but in 1851 Ireland passed a massive luxury goods tax and, seeing they could make no real profit anymore, closed the business. It lay dormant as a company for nearly 100 years.

In 1950 a Czech glass-blower bought up the assets and began making glass again. As there were no qualified glass cutters in Ireland at the time, he brought in countryman Miroslav Havel, who designed the Lismore pattern, which is still in use today and is the bulk of the company's retail focus. At that time the company began an apprenticeship program. Apprentice glass cutters would study for five years, at the end of which they were given three attempts to recreate what is called "The Apprentice Bowl." (Photo to right) This bowl
has 600 cuts and all 10 patterns in use by the company. If the apprentice was successful, he would study for an additional three years and become a Master Cutter. If not, he could quit or take the five year apprenticeship all over again.

A few years later, a consortium of Irish businessmen injected some much needed capital to improve the facilities and they were moved away from Waterford. Over the next 40 years, the company exploded, building new facilities, winning awards, purchasing other companies, and becoming a publicly sold and traded company. When the dollar crashed in 1990, the company recruited new investors and new cash, retooled, and invested heavily in new technologies until 2008, when the economy turned sour again and they declared bankruptcy in 2009. At that point they were purchased by an "equity firm" from New York called KPS Capital, who were looking to expand their holdings to European markets.

KPS struck an agreement with the Waterford City Council and moved the main production of the Crystal back to the City Centre in Waterford, where to this day they continue to melt down 7,500 tons of crystal and produce - mostly by hand - some 45,000 pieces.

And you know Dad and I couldn't leave without purchasing a couple of pieces to ship back home.


Our next stop was the Bishop's Palace, built by the Bishop of Waterford but he died before it was finished. It was eventually purchased by the architect - Richard Castle - and finished in 1741, recently renovated back to its original floor plan design in 2011. The fun part about this museum, which specializes in "Georgian Life" were the tour guides, who played the
parts of the head housekeeper and the butler. Here I learned that at the height of the religious feud between the Catholics and Protestants, the British Parliament passed a law that effectively said no Catholic could become King of England. When the current ruler produced no heir, they had to scramble to find a suitable candidate. Eventually they picked "German George," a German nobleman who was - get this - *56th* in line for the throne but the only Protestant. He was dubbed King George I, and it is his lineage that you can trace right down to today's Queen Elizabeth.

There was a huge portrait in one room of Daniel O'Connell, an Irish political leader in the early 1800s. He argued passionately for two things: The independence of Ireland through peaceful means, and the right of Catholics to hold office and be treated equally. A devout Catholic, he ordered that when he died his heart be cut out and sent to Rome, and the rest of his body be sent to Dublin for burial in his beloved Ireland. And so it was.


Right next door - part of what they call the "Viking Triangle" - is the Medieval Museum. Here you can see relics and the history of Waterford from roughly 1065 up to 1650 A.D. The entire second floor is devoted to religious history and some of the vestments worn by the Bishops over the years are just amazing. (See photo)


About this time Pop and I were pooped and our brains were full. We crept back to the hotel for a good nap and then a short walk along the river before dinner. Unfortunately, right about then Dad's sugar gave out and he had a hypoglycemic episode that had me handing out glucose tablets and heading for the bar to get him a Coke. We got him into the restaurant for dinner and he eventually rallied and by the time dinner was done, he was back to himself again, but exhausted. Being a diabetic myself, I am intimately acquainted with that feeling.

So he hit the hay and I - as is our usual schedule - stayed up late to get the blog and Facebook photos done, as well as check on home correspondence.

We head back into Dublin tomorrow to return our rental wheelchair and maybe pick up one more tourist destination before we head out to our final hotel.


Mark's Musings is published on a semi-periodical basis that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at Facebook link is over there to the right. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Tomorrow: Back to Dublin. Well, for a wee bit, anyway.

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