With 16 flights running per week, VLM Airlines’ recently announced route from Luton makes it an easy journey to Waterford Airport – a positive ploy to encourage the British to relish in the history of the area’s hinterland.
Originally from Perth in Western Australia and a current resident of London, the lush landscapes of The Emerald Isle are mesmerising to me. I pass rolling green hills and pastures, blooming springtime flowers, cottage houses and crumbling ruins. As the oldest city in Ireland at 1100AD, Waterford incorporates canals adorned with vintage houses leading to an enormous wharf.
With a plan to explore the city in the evening, I hop on Duggan Coaches to continue through Waterford to Kilkenny, a county boasting colourful house facades and pubs on every corner. Recognised as the heritage capital of Ireland, the area is filled with stories of a medieval past. I decide to explore ancient laneways lined with quaint shops, following the footsteps of those from centuries before. I battle tourist crowds to take in the majestic wonder of Kilkenny Castle. Built in the 12th century and restored to replicate 17th century glamour, the castle is riddled with drawing rooms, libraries, marble furniture, mesmerising towers and high roofs with thatched ceilings.
The attentive tour guide tells us passionate stories about those who inherited the castle in the 12th century – the Butlers. According to legend, the Butler ownership began when James Butler – 3rd Earl of Ormond – purchased the castle in 1391. At the time of purchase, the setting of Kilkenny Castle was surrounded by orchards and meadows and became the principal Irish residence of the family for almost 600 years. Our tour guide stresses the various complex architectural styles of the castle, highlighting the many additions and alterations that have been made to the building since that time. He tells us captivating stories about ladies with lily-white porcelain skin who would sit in the drawing room while their husbands took to playing croquet in the extravagant green grounds. But perhaps the most intriguing story surrounded when Arthur – 6th Marquess of Ormonde – presented the castle to the people of Kilkenny for a mere £50 in 1967.
After a quick stop-off at the Kilkenny Design Centre for lunch, I decide to check out the Smithwicks Beer Tour which opened in July of last year. The craft of brewing in Ireland has a long and rich history, with Smithwicks being no exception, producing its first brew in 1710. We walk into the Victorian brewing building where a tour guide takes us through the making of Ireland’s oldest beer, teaching us the craft of brewing and thankfully, letting us have a taste of a pint. Utilising 10 per cent malt, the Smithwicks beer boasts a ruby red colour with a distinctive taste. We are told the yeast creates three different notes: fruity, florally and malty.
Incredibly satisfied by the Smithwicks pint, I head back on the Duggan Coach to Waterford in order to attend an afternoon tour of the Viking Triangle, incorporated by the likes of Bishop’s Palace, the Medieval Museum and Reginald’s Tower. Founded by the Vikings in 914, the city is arguably the oldest area of continuous development in Ireland. Rightly so, our tour guide is extremely passionate about the area. Using props, he tells us about Reginald’s Tower – the oldest standing tower in Europe and the site of the first defensive structure built by the Viking settlers. He tells us in detail about how the tower withstood the advances of Oliver Cromwell and Henry VIII in 1100. After taking in the 18th century Bishop’s Palace, we make our way into the 15th century Mayor’s wine cellar characterised by thatched roofs and limestone walls. Linked to the wine cellar is the one-year-old Waterford Museum with the exact same limestone sourced from a similar area of England centuries ago. The museum boasts Waterford’s 13th century Choristers’ Hall, in addition to the hat worn by Henry VIII in his conquering years and the gold-dripping clothing of kings in those eras.
After catching a glimpse of sparkling crystals ranging from Viking hats and horse drawn carriages within House of Waterford Crystal, I make my way to The Tower Hotel, with views of the sun setting over the wharf. I choose to have pre-dinner cocktails at The Reg, a restaurant located directly opposite Reginald’s Tower and with similar encompassing views of the river. After tasting some Irish cocktails and whiskey, I decide to indulge in a three-course meal featuring an Irish favourite, pork and apple croquettes and mussels marinière. With a bar connected to the restaurant, it is easy to get carried away and enjoy the atmosphere of the live music, indulging in more Irish whiskey and beer and taking in the brisk air coming from the wharf.
After a breakfast at Tower Hotel the next morning, I hop aboard the Duggan Coach to head to Wexford. Here, amid beautiful blue skies unusual for Ireland, I explore the Dunbrody Famine Ship on the New Ross quayside and moored on the bank of the River Barrow. The passionate guides here successfully take us back to the 1840s of when the people of Ireland tried to escape the poverty and famine and board ships bound for America as costumed performers reimagine the saddening stories of the thousands of people crammed into the lower decks of the boat.
We continue driving through Wexford County on our way to Hook Lighthouse where it is possible to view the three sisters meeting – the River Barrow, the River Nore and the River Suir. As one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the world, the structure has a sweeping views of the water surrounding it. We are told one could even possibly spot seals, dolphins and whales if they are careful. For lunch, the Duncannon beach side southwest of County Wexford proves a positive option, with colourful house facades juxtaposing with the blue of the ocean. Primarily a fishing village, the area is bordered to the west by Waterford harbour incorporating a mile-long golden beach and I relish the salty sea air. But, alas, with my two-day Irish stint coming to an end, my coach makes its way back to Waterford using the car ferry from Ballyhack in Wexford. As we drift across the river, I admire the colours of the flowers bouncing off the greenery of the hills and try to seek solace in how close the serenity of Waterford really is to London.
FLY: VLM Airlines flies from London Luton to Waterford twice daily on weekdays and daily on Saturdays and Sundays. One-way fare prices start from £48, Luton to Waterford, and from £29, Waterford to Luton.
STAY: Tower Hotel, Waterford: www.towerhotelwaterford.com
Kilkenny Design Centre. From afternoon teas through to filling roasts, this is the perfect place for a stop-off after a hard day of exploring the county. www.kilkennydesign.com
The Reg. This seafood gastronomy pub has the only outdoor terrace bar overlooking Reginald’s Tower with sweeping views of the city’s wharf. www.thereg.ie
Roches Bar and Sqigl Restaurant. Best known for its seafood chowder, this establishment is located close to the coast. www.sqiglrestaurant.com
Revolution Gastro Bar, Waterford. For a relaxed sip of Irish whiskey, or a casual jig on the dance floor. www.revolutionwaterford.com