When the Waterford Crystal factory ceased operations in 2009 due to the economic downtown, it looked like the end of an era. And it was for over a year. But this summer brought a revival to this 225-year-old craft enterprise in Waterford City.
A new Waterford glass-making factory has been opened as The House of Waterford Crystal, at a city centre location on The Mall in Waterford City, thanks to a €20 million ($25.4 million) investment by the local city council. It is housed in a set of former office buildings located on The Mall, across the street from the Theatre Royal and City Hall.
The new location, which plans to produce over 40,000 luxury hand-crafted pieces per year using traditional artisan methods, provides a guided factory tour for visitors as well as a retail store and showroom. There is also a stylish café with indoor and outdoor seating. Up to 130 full-time staff are employed at the new facility during peak periods.
As a visitor who had toured the old factory dozens of times over the years, I had my doubts that this new down-sized facility could match the original. But I was pleasantly surprised. The U-shaped layout is more compact (and that makes it easier to walk from section to section), and every step of the crystal-producing process is still there.
A tour starts with the wooden mould-making and then quickly moves on to close-up views of the glass-making process – mouth-blowing and shaping of each piece as it goes into and out of the big furnace, crystal sculpting, sketching patterns and designs on the glass, and then the precision-cutting and engraving by hand and wheel, followed by quality inspection and finishing. Each stage is presented from close-up viewing platforms, with opportunities to ask questions of the craftsmen as they work. Visitors are welcome to take pictures too.
The tour takes about the same time as previously, around 50-60 minutes, depending on questions, and ends in a huge showroom/retail shop with the largest collection of Waterford Crystal in the world.
The big advantage of the new factory is that it is in the city centre just two blocks from The Quay and a short walk from the landmark Reginald’s Tower and the major hotels such as the Tower, Marina, and Granville. If you are just passing through Waterford and need to park a car, access is a little more difficult. Unlike the old building at Kilbarry south of the city centre that had plenty of adjacent free parking spaces, the new facility does not have its own parking lot, and if you drive straight to the Waterford Crystal front door from the Quay, you have passed the access to parking.
Parking is at the Bolton St. Car Park, a pay-and-display facility charging €2 ($2.54) per hour, behind the Waterford Crystal buildings. After passing the Tower Hotel on the left, you need to make the first left turn to Lombard St., and then a right to Bolton St. to enter the parking area. If approaching from the south, it will be the first right after the Waterford Crystal building. When we visited, it was not sign-posted, but hopefully this will improve quickly if enough tourists have trouble finding it. After parking your car, it is about a one-block walk back to The Mall and the Waterford Crystal entrance.
The House of Waterford Crystal is open seven days a week (Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; last tour is at 4:15 p.m. each day), but there will be shorter hours in winter. Admission charges, which included the guided tour, are as follows: adults, €10 ($12.70); seniors and students, €8 ($10.16); children (aged 5-18), €3.50 ($4.45). Tickets can be booked online in advance.
More information: The House of Waterford Crystal, The Mall, Waterford City, tel. 051-371000 or www.waterfordvisitorcentre.com
Patricia (Pat) Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Her latest book, Ireland Travel 101 (http://www.IrelandTravel101.com) won 1st Place in the Travel Guide category of the North American Travel Journalists Association annual competition this year. Visit Pat’s web site (http://www.IrelandExpert.com).