A Virtual Tour of Ireland - Part II Going to Arklow, Maybe Avoca
It was April of last year that I published Part I of my virtual tour of Ireland. Breaking it up into two parts, the focus of Part I was all Along the Wild Atlantic Way. In Part II I wish to take you along as we visit the southern and eastern coastlines of Ireland along the Celtic and Irish Seas, often referred to as Ireland's Ancient East.
Cobh, County Cork
As we begin the second part of our virtual tour, we start in Cobh, County Cork, known from 1849 to 1920 as Queenstown.
This quaint little seaside town is best known as the final port of call for the Titanic in 1912. As our time was limited, we chose to wander through the Titanic Experience Museum. Housed in the original White Star Line Building where tickets were sold for this fateful journey, this museum holds artifacts and emerges you in the experience of what it was like to be aboard and sail along on the ship.
Our visit to Cobh was way too short, and a destination I plan to return to so that I can fully enjoy St. Colman's Cathedral and the famous view known as the "deck of cards". How I missed this the first go around is beyond me!!!
Waterford, County Waterford One of my favorite cities in Ireland is Waterford. The oldest city in Ireland, it was founded in 853 by the Vikings. The history of this city is what piques my interest the most. Any fan of the Vikings series would absolutely appreciate this city and its history. Welcoming you into the city stands Reginald's Tower. The tower is the oldest civic building in Ireland, and is believed to be used mainly as medieval defense.
Used today as a museum, our visit fell conveniently on the first Wednesday of the month and our admission was free. I highly recommend taking the time to tour this amazing structure as well as the replica of the Viking Longship that sits right outside the entrance. Tickets for this, and the next museum can be purchased together to save a bit.
For all history buffs, I must insist you visit the Waterford Medieval Museum . It is one of the most comprehensive museums I've ever visited. From the moment you step inside the building through the 13th century Choristers’ Hall and a 15th century wine vault, you are transported back in time and the entry sets the scene for what is to come throughout the tour.
Priceless exhibits within, truly give you a sense of what it was like to be a resident in medieval Waterford, and what was held to be important at the time.
From the detailed miniature sculptures of the city, to the priceless artifacts within, I've never had such a museum make such a last impression.
In addition to many of the pieces/photos I share here today of my tour of the museum, there are four items within that truly are worth mentioning if you haven't been enticed yet; The Great Roll of Waterford, The Waterford Cloth of Gold Vestments, Henry the VIII's hat and sword, and The Great Parchment Book of Waterford. These pieces alone are worth the entire trip to Waterford.
The Great Charter Roll of Waterford
The Great Charter Roll of Waterford is one of Waterford's most prized possessions and a critical piece of history. It dates back to 1372-1373 and through illustrations and information scribed upon, it tells the story of Waterford and its relationship over the years with the Kings of England from King Henry II to Edward III. In an effort to demonstrate and maintain their importance and designation as a Royal Port over New Ross, this charter was created to present to Edward III as a visual aid of sorts to convince him that their worth was far greater as a royal port, and it worked! An illustration map of Waterford in the charter roll is believed to be the first picture into what Medieval Waterford resembled, as well as one of the only illustrations of King Edward III completed while he was alive.
The Waterford Cloth of Gold Vestments
This particular exhibit really made a lasting impression on me. These gorgeous vestments were handmade of Italian silk from Florence and embroidered in Bruges (Belgium) in the 1460's. They tell a story of both the Old and New Testaments and are the only link to the Renaissance to survive Northern Europe. They survived because prior to the city losing control to Oliver Cromwell during the British Civil Wars, they were buried in 1650 and not found until 123 years later during the demolition of the medieval cathedral they were buried within. The fact that the fine vestments were buried and found in pristine condition is mind blowing to me. The intricate work on each of these vestments left me in awe. I know that I could have spent an exurbanite amount of time just gawking at them, still not truly seeing all the handiwork within. A definite must see in Waterford.
King Henry VIII's Cap of Maintenance/Sword
As you meander through the museum, there are also many other memorable exhibits deserving of a shout out, such as King Henry VIII's hat, known as The Cap of Maintenance, and known to be the only piece of the King's wardrobe still in existence, as well as several charters, and a sword also from the King. These items were given to friend of King Henry VII's and Mayor of Waterford, William Wyse.
As seen below, the gold ring brooch shown is one of the oldest pieces in the museum. Made around 1210, a brooch such as this would often be used as a gift of romance and chivalry, and given to one as a promise of love and engagement. Commonly worn around this time, it is illustrated within the great roll where the governor of Ireland, John Darcy (1324-1327) is wearing one, and mentioned in a poem of 1184 in which is described as the role of the jewel and it's meaning behind it.
Finally, the last most prominent exhibit I would like to point out is the Great Parchment Book of Waterford: Liber Antiquissimus Civtatis Waterfordiae . This manuscript is a record of the city from 1356-1649. Within the manuscript you can find the ruler of time as well as the elected Mayor of Waterford depicted by entries and illustrations. Within the book, you also will find mentions of the Virgin Mary, one of only two written pieces in existence today denoting the importance of Catholicism in Ireland, the other being the Book of Kells.
As you find your way throughout the building, a timeline of artifacts demonstrate how the city of Waterford has evolved . You see everything from the earliest of pieces discovered and have been meticulously preserved, to period pieces of furniture, decor, china, and crystal, to pieces of modernization such as the cameras and toys from the last century; Waterford literally unfolds before your eyes.
House of Waterford Crystal
Waterford may be best known to Americans for the gorgeous Waterford Crystal that has been produced over the years. Waterford Crystal began producing in 1783 and continued on and off until 2009 when it was sold and the original factory in Kilbarry was closed. At the urgency of both the Waterford City Council and Waterford Chamber of Commerce, and under new ownership, they resumed production in 2010 in heart of Waterford at what is now known as the House of Waterford Crystal. Here they both produce pieces and offer tours of the factory.
As you enter the shop you are met with the most sparkling of welcomes with exhibits of magnificent pieces, and inventory of items for sale. To say this clutz was quite nervous in and around the shop was an understatement! Hugging my camera bag so as to not knock into any displays, I looked around admiring each and every piece until the tour began.
Making our way into the entrance of the tour, you are met with a brief history and spectacular pieces to admire as you wait for the tour to begin.
Once entering the factory, you see examples of hand molds used throughout the years, and see first hand molten glass being shaped and blown into objects of art. After each piece is created, it goes through a thorough inspection process and any slight imperfection sends it back to the start to be melted down and begun again. Should the piece pass inspection, it is then marked and expert craftsmen/women (who train for no less than 8 years) begin to cut, sculpt, and engrave the magnificent pieces you see as the final piece. Although a little pricey, these handmade pieces are meticulously crafted and well worth every penny spent.
The City of Waterford offers so much to anyone who visits, and is a very walkable city. It is very charming with it's seaside walkways, shopping regions, and eateries and pubs throughout.
One of my favorite things about this city besides the obvious...is the street art. This city embraces its history, utilizes its resources, and celebrates its uniqueness.
I highly recommend Waterford as a must see stop on your next tour to Ireland. In fact I must insist.
New Ross, County Wexford
In the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century, America saw a large population of Irish immigrants migrate in hopes of a better life. Famine, religious beliefs, and economic times forced more than 1.5 million people to leave Ireland. One of the most common points of departure was New Ross, in County Wexford. With diminished trade and an opportunity to make more money, ship owners began outfitting and utilizing their vessels to transport immigrants across the Atlantic. Prior to their departure, families left behind would celebrate their loved ones with what they called "An American Wake". Knowing they would never see their kin again, these celebrations acted as a final farewell to loved ones before boarding.
The vessels were commonly referred to as "Famine Ships" or "Coffin Ships". The ships carried as many passengers as they could fit down below. All crammed in together with little space, sparse food, and deplorable unsanitary conditions, the death rate was high (20-50%). Those who did not make it would be buried at sea, hence the name "Coffin Ships".
On my trip to Ireland in 2018, we had the opportunity to experience what it was like to voyage as an immigrant to America when we visited the replicate famine ship, the Dunbrody which is permanently moored in New Ross. On board you become a passenger, see where you would berth, see the deplorable conditions you would endure, and hear from period actors that tell you about their lives on board. The questions and answer interaction is both informative and entertaining, immersing you even more into the experience of our ancestors.
Making your way up top on deck, you see the size of the vessel and learn of what it was like to journey across the Atlantic on a ship this size. Ringing the original bell (recovered from the original Dunbrody), you end your tour and exit through the Irish American Hall of Fame where you see those Americans that came from the ancestry of these voyages. One of the most famous descendants from New Ross is John F. Kennedy, Jr. In 1988 the JFK Trust was established and to date has established several projects, one being the Irish Emigration Database. Working together with Ellis Island Restoration Commission in New York and the Battery Conservancy in New York, a database of emigrants were compiled from 1846-1890 for New York, and 1946-1851 for Boston, Philadelphia & New Orleans for your use as you trace your ancestry. For more information on this database and to search for your ancestors, please visit the Dunbrody Famine Ship webpage.
Arklow, a small town in County Wicklow along the Irish Sea, holds a special place in my heart. It is here where I feel most at home while in Ireland. Perhaps it's because my "Irish Family" resides here. It is here I was welcomed with open arms by the nicest, and most talented, group of people I've ever met. You are instant family to them (hence the title Irish Family).
Arklow is not a usual stop for most when traveling Ireland, and boy are they missing out. I came to be in Arklow through fate. Both trips I made to Ireland were initiated as a band tour with my friends, The Elders. We would travel from town to town seeing the sites during the day, and have a show in the evenings. The lead singer of The Elders, Ian Byrne, hailed from Arklow; so Arklow would be a stop each year for us. What occurred as we arrived was beyond amazing though. Our Arklow friends would organize a trad session the first night in town for us, and then the second night we would have a show at the local hotel where everyone would gather. I cannot express how hospitable these folks are. As far as the talent, I'll get into that in a moment. All I know is that, Arklow is home when I come to Ireland, and these moments are like family reunions.
Arklow Trad Session/Arklow Hotel Show
As I mentioned above, the fine folks in Arklow would go above and beyond to make sure we had an authentic trad session each year. The amount of talent in the residents of Arklow is mind blowing. They sing, they play, they dance, in fact I don’t think there’s anything they can’t do!!! And do amazingly well!!
Upon arrival, we would settle in, then we would take a quick walk across the 19 Arches Bridge, stop in at the Arklow Bridge Hotel for some of their famous fish and chips (with mushy peas of course), a pint of Guinness, and then down the street to Kenny's Harbor Bar where they would be waiting for us.
Held at the Kenny's Harbor Bar (a business that closed unfortunately due to Covid) our hosts organized local talent to share a night of traditional music alongside the band. These same folks, through a dedication to showcasing their local talent would a few years later create a musical venue called The Asgard Theater. This space was just a space above a pub to begin, but with the love and dedication of those involved, they created this performance venue that in its first year was fully booked and would sell out in record time!!! It’s heartbreaking today to think that all the hard work they put into raising funds and transforming the space, would be closed a short time later due to Covid. But I don’t fret that in the ashes of this pandemic, they once again will rise to sing and perform, maybe not in this venue, but they will once again find a home. They will once again invite the world to come and perform and celebrate their traditions and their talented residents!! After all, this is where it began.
Our time there was magical. The sessions were my first taste of what a Trad Session was, and the memories I will cherish always. They were standing room only too. All crammed together with pints in hand, we enjoyed traditional performances of some of the most talented folks I've ever seen of all ages. One of my favorite Elders songs, "Going to Arklow", debuted at the session in 2016. Not yet even recorded, the band shared the song written about their beloved Arklow and Avoca, allowing you to visually picture the lyrics first hand!!
Going to Arklow
Lyrics by Ian & Norm
Four immigrants are talking home boasting to their friends
Comparing stories each the best legends never end
Our next migration to the Isle across that stormy sea
Our land is near our friends are dear home will always be
The stories flying high tales of conquest and the strong
A table full of memories, the wise are never wrong
It’s great to be back in the land you couldn’t wait to leave
With pride and grace a wiser man we’re learning how to weave
I'm going to Arklow, maybe Avoca
Where the road winds through the valley
And our rivers finally free I'm going to Arklow
Founded by the Vikings the water pleased them well
With centuries of battles past they’ve had their share of hell
Nineteen arches separating fairies from the flock
The handmade bridge with shiny plaque more accolades than Knock
I'm going to Arklow, maybe Avoca
Where the road winds through the valley
And our rivers finally free I'm going to Arklow
The Tyrell boys they built them well the Ascard and the Moth
The Arklow girls are dancing as the sailors tie the knot
For potters all around the world that logo so endeared
This is our little East coast town we boast for all is dear
I'm going to Arklow, maybe to Avoca
Where the road winds through the valley
And the rivers finally free I'm going to Arklow
On both trips, the second night in Arklow we would have a formal sit down dinner and show at the Arklow Bay Hotel, where we all were staying. Always a great time, the monies raised went to helping promote music and the arts in Arklow.
I cannot say enough about the Arklow Bay Hotel (and actually all of the hotels Hammonds Tours booked for us). They treated us like royalty!! Like a well oiled machine, they would make sure we all would settle in properly (see the amount of suitcases they would have to carry to our rooms), and offered not only amazing accommodations, they had a great dining room and pub for us, banquet room for the show, and they were located right on the Harbor Walk. Each morning (and every chance I got) I would take advantage and take a walk down to the sea.
Meandering down a pathway towards the Irish Sea, I would pass little fairy houses tucked in a forest along the way, and feed geese and ducks at the pond, until I came upon the walkway. Hearing the waves crashing along the rocky coastline was an indicator how angry the sea could be. I can only imagine how difficult a life those that made the sea a career had. But it was mesmerizing, and I could see how they would be drawn to it. It was a life I could definitely partake in.
For those not familiar with this small community, it is a busy seaport still today. Known for both shipbuilding and shipping, Ireland's largest shipping company, Arklow Shipping, makes its home in Arklow Harbour today, and famous ships such as Asgard II and Gipsy Moth III were built in Arklow. Factories at one time dot the landscape throughout the town, however have today been reinvented as alternative sites with new more modern uses.
In 2018, our friends kidnapped us and gave us a day of great fun as we visited the Wicklow Gaol and Wicklow Brewery. Ironically, thinking back now, one could have very well lead to the other with this group.
The Gaol was built in 1702, it would be utilized over the years for many reasons, closed and reopened as needed, and it finally closed its door in 1924. In 1985 it was recognized as an important piece of history, was renovated, and reopened to the public once again in 1998.
Over the years this structure grew in size and was used in housing inmates of the rebellions, civil wars, and as a holding area for those convicts being transported overseas. The history of this Gaol is well documented on the self-guided tour throughout the building. Giving a comprehensive history or the Gaol, visitors can see a story unfold of the conditions, residents, times in history, as well as reforms it saw throughout its many years of existence. In addition, it is well documented to be one of the most haunted places in Wicklow.
Mickey Finn's Restaurant/Wicklow Brewery
Working up an appetite in the Gaol, we headed to Mickey Finn’s restaurant for lunch and special tour of the Wicklow Brewery. A rainy colder day, we were warmed up with the most delicious food and libations in a Irish pub like no other. Our special tour included a history of the Brewery from head brew-master, Bryan Kelley, as well as a tasting of those craft beers brewed on site and on tap at the moment. Brewed using the Braukon system, from the Bavarian region in Germany, the Wicklow Brewery is a total in house brewery from start to finish. Continuously perfecting their craft, I highly recommend this stop when in Arklow.
Nestled in the Wicklow Mountains, this area is one I highly recommend visiting if not on your agenda yet. It is my home away from home. I cannot wait to return and explore further.