The earliest Viking settlement in the Waterford area was at the early to mid-ninth century site at Woodstown about five kilometres up river from the present city. This proto-town did not survive and in 914 Viking adventurers established Ireland’s first permanent city at Waterford – in an area which is still known as the Viking Triangle.
This settlement occupied the site where Reginald’s Tower now stands and recent archaeological excavations have confirmed an early tenth century date for Viking Waterford. The early settlement was easy to defend as two sides were surrounded by water while the landward side was protected by an earthen bank and ditch. This was replaced by a stone wall by the mid-twelfth century.
Following the capture of Waterford by the Anglo Normans in 1170 the city prospered and a major wall building programme was begun. King Henry II of England made Waterford a royal city and during the reign of his son John (1199-1216) the old Viking town was refortified. Reginald’s Tower which was mentioned by Gerald of Wales in his account of the fall of the city to the Anglo Normans was also rebuilt during this period.
As the population grew from the 1200s a large suburb was enclosed by an earthen bank and ditch. Over the following centuries these defences were upgraded and replaced by a series of stone walls, gates and towers. The 1373 lavishly illuminated Great Charter Roll of Waterford (one of the outstanding treasures of medieval Ireland) includes the earliest view of an Irish walled town. The top section of the roll features an illustration of medieval Waterford with all the walls and towers rendered and whitewashed.
The economic downturn of the fourteenth century resulted in the gradual isolation of Waterford as the Gaelic Irish regained control over much of the city’s hinterland. Waterford came under attack from the O’Driscolls of Cork as well as the Powers of Co Waterford.
In 1495, Waterford’s defences were severely tested when the city was attacked by Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne of England. Artillery was used for the first time on an Irish city during the eleven-day siege. The defenders of the city were successful because of cannon lodged in Reginald’s Tower managed to sink two of Warbeck’s ships. In recognition of Waterford’s loyalty, King Henry VII granted the city its motto – Urbs Intacta Manet Waterfordia – the City of Waterford remains untaken. A cannon taken from one of Warbeck’s sunken ships is now on display in the city’s medieval museum.
Today, nearly two kilometres of town wall, along with Reginald’s Tower and five other towers remain. Together they constitute the largest collection of medieval urban defences in Ireland.
For further information on the city’s history contact:
Donnchadh O’Ceallachain, Medieval Museum
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