Founded by the Vikings in 914, Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city.
Reginald’s Tower is Ireland’s oldest civic building and has been in continuous use for almost 800 years. It was twice used as a mint. During the medieval period, 240 silverpennies would have been struck here from every pound weight of silver. It had to be exact every time, making this possibly the only job in the world where it was a crime to make too much money. If a minter did produce more than 240 penny coins with the intention of keeping the extra pennies for himself his punishment was to have his hand chopped off!
During the 19th century, Reginald’s Tower was used as a prison. Women prisoners were locked away on the top floor. With no fires to keep them warm and to wile away thehours, the incarcerated women danced Irish reels and jigs on the wooden floors – much to the great annoyance of the male inmates occupying the room below.
Religion dominated every aspect of life during the Middle Ages. Waterford alone had fifteen churches, despite the population being just 3,000.
The ruins of Greyfriars are all that is left of the Franciscan Friary. Founded in 1241, it was one of the earliest Franciscan foundations in Ireland. When Richard II came to Waterford in 1394 he established his court there.
When the Franciscan Friary was closed by King Henry VIII it was rented by the city council to a local merchant who applied to the king for a charter to found an alms house for the poor. Henry agreed on condition that each night the inmates pray for his soul.
Thomas Stukley, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, stole the cannon that were mounted on the blockhouse in front of Reginald’s Tower. He later died in North Africa after his leg had been blown off by a cannon ball!
In 1468 the Mayor of Waterford James Rice gifted the Wine Vault which is preserved beneath Waterford’s Medieval Museum to the Church. The rent from it paid for priests to say special Masses for his soul.
When William of Orange was made King of England he brought Protestant refugees from France to Ireland. Those who settled in Waterford introduced a new style of breakfast bread made of white flour. The Pain Blanc became known locally as the Blaa and is as popular today in Waterford City as it was 300 years ago.
The reason why St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in March is because when the official list of saints of the Roman Catholic Church were being drawn up in Rome in the 1600s the man in charge of fixing the dates for every saint was the Waterford Franciscan, Fr Luke Wadding. Because the Irish Franciscans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th of March, he did not want to break with tradition and so he fixed this date forever.
Ever since the 1650s plans were mooted to build a new Church of Ireland Cathedral but it was not until 1773 that work finally began. The Bishop at the time was not fully convinced as to the merits of the project but many among his congregation felt that the old medieval cathedral was not really suited to Anglican worship. As a way of getting their way rumours were spread that the old cathedral was falling down. To help convince the Bishop as to its unsafe condition small boys were hired to go into the roofspace and as the bishop walked up the cathedral to drop stones as he passed. Convinced that the cathedral was unsafe he agreed to its demolition.
One of the greatest female actors of the eighteenth centuries was Dorothea Jordan. She was born in Waterford and started her acting career in the city before moving to Dublin and then to London and becoming the greatest female actor of her age. Described as witty, highly intelligent and a great beauty, from 1791 she was the mistress of Prince William, third son of King George III and the future King William IV. Theirs was a remarkable relationship, lasting 20 years. Although the couple never married they had ten children together. By 1811 the relationship was over and she spent her final days in Paris out of reach of her many creditors. The children did well in life though and one of the descendants of Dorothea and William is David Cameron who became Prime Minister of Britain in 2010.
American Civil War general Thomas Francis Meagher was born into a wealthy Waterford Catholic middle-class family in 1823. An admirer of revolutionary France he visited Paris following the 1848 revolution which established the second republic. Meagher adopted the French tricolour form for his proposed national flag for Ireland – green, white andorange. He first flew his flag in Waterford from Number 33 the Mall in March 1848. Seventy-four years later, Meagher’s green, white and orange tricolour was adopted as the national flag of newly independent Ireland.