After our stop at Blarney we headed north. Our included visit this afternoon was to the Waterford Crystal factory where we will get a tour. This was actually a very interesting stop. We were shown a short video. The presentation ended with a replica of the Millenium crystal ball from NYC descending in front of a black screen with a city skyline behind it. Impressive with the lights flashing in patterns and colours and ending in full brilliance.
We then headed into the factory proper. Here then is a condensed version of Waterford Crystal: It was founded in 1783 by brothers George and William Penrose. The factory has been at the present location, on the edge of town since 1971 and employs 1600. The craftsmen have a minimum 5 years apprenticeship and normally 3 more for the masters in the various fields of glass blowing and cutting and engravers do 3 years at a local cottage before training for 10 more. Crystal is made from silica sand, potash and litharge and is heated to a molten state in gas ovens to 1400 degrees. The first room was where the ovens are. Most of the blowers and cutters seem to be men, and the guide said it wasn’t a reflection on women, it’s just that women rarely seem to choose this field.
The molten crystal is pulled out of the oven in a blob, the size depending on what will be the end result. The blowers all know exactly how much to pull out of the fire for what they are making. It's on the end of a 5 foot long metal rod. It’s shaped using wooden tools soaked in cold water to gently give it a starting point. It is then lowered into a wooden mold below the feet of the men. They blow through the long tube and the molten crystal expands to the shape of the mold. When it comes out of the mold it now looks like glass and it’s smoothed and sanded lightly. It's broken off the tube and laid on a conveyer belt. The crystal is cooled for up to two days and then checked for flaws. If there is the slightest mark, it’s smashed and melted down again.
We saw the crystal shells marked with a grid pattern and then watched some of the cutters grind the classic Waterford patterns into bowls and glasses on a diamond tipped wheel using the grids as a guideline. The actual patterns are not marked on the glass unless it’s a special one of a kind or limited edition design. These are all master craftsmen that have had to memorize all the 60 or 70 standard patterns during their training. We saw another room where the carvers work on solid pieces like figurines (and cottages!). They create a clay model for these as a guideline. The wheels used to carve the solid pieces are stone with small diamond tipped ones for the finer detail work.
We saw the engraving room. This kind of engraving comes out looking like frosted inset sections etched into the crystal. Engraving is the most time consuming and difficult of all the jobs. The artisans make their own copper tipped tools, softer than diamond tipped. One tool we saw was made from a copper coin! The room wasn’t brightly lit overhead though each work station had good spot lights. We then had a more personal demonstration from a veteran cutter who talked to us and answered questions about his career and the working conditions and shifts.
We had a half hour or so in the showroom and gallery which was interesting. They had replicas of some of the most spectacular pieces like a lot of the trophies for world famous tournaments such as the World Cup, the Super bowl and the PGA golf. We saw a large chess piece that stood about 4 foot high and outside the gallery was a full size crystal mailbox and a full size crystal grandfather clock! Wow! It was quite a fascinating visit.
While we were in there, Alec and Bill took the luggage to the hotel in Waterford, the Quality Marina which is, as the name implies on the waterfront by the marina. It looked like a city with some interesting spots to explore, just judging from the drive through. We had a nice view from our hotel room over an inlet on the city side of the hotel. We had signed up for a visit to an old country pub before dinner tonight so there was only time to change and freshen up with a cup of tea before we left.
We drove to Kilmeaden where the Cozy Thatch pub was. It has been voted tops in an annual Irish Heritage Pub of the Year contest several times going by the plaques displayed This is a low white thatched roof building, some of which dates to 1475. It was purchased by a family called Horton in 1780 and turned into a public house and it’s never been sold since, having passed down through the generations. It has two fireplaces burning peat, and is in an L shape. The shorter section of the room is painted deep pink, the rest in white with dark wood and beams., there’s an open bit at one end above, a loft of sorts. The pub also doubled as the local funeral parlour for the village soon after it was established until 1969 when the government passed a law forbidding wakes in pubs. In the room at the back where the deceased would be laid out is a large bed that dates before the Horton family bought the building (because it was built inside the room and too big to get out of the house with the previous owners) and family and friends would gather here to wake the dead. Having the wake in a pub just solved both of the pressing needs. The Irish have always celebrated the life of the deceased with memories, music and drink. Only seems convenient to have the two under one roof!
The family that owns the pub (the publican’s mother was a Horton) also brews their own lager on the premises and lives there as well. We sat down in groups and ordered the first of our two drinks that came along with the price of this "optional" excursion. I opted for the local lager and it was very nice! We were then entertained by a singer called Tommy Commerford who does this for all the tours I believe. He was witty, a good singer and did all the traditional tunes so that everyone could sing along which we did. He would pause briefly if someone was about to take his picture and smile for the camera. A real showman! He did an excellent a capella version of Danny Boy that I thought was wonderful in spite of the fact that I'm not that fond of the song. We enjoyed the music, the atmosphere and the drinks. I really like the smell of the peat fire though I’m not sure I could describe it. It’s a pungent aroma but not quite like a fragrant hard wood or pipe tobacco. It burns hot and for a long time too apparently.
We arrived back at the hotel for about 8 for dinner. There was another tour group from Trafalgar there just on the beginning of their tour. Dinner was fine, we were seated at long tables which to me makes it feel more like a convention or something. I prefer the smaller tables of 4 or 6 or even 8 where it feels a bit more private.