Waterford is the oldest continuous urban settlement on the island of Ireland. Older than most European capital cities (except for London and Paris) Waterford can trace its history from Vikings through to Victorians and its story encompasses English Kings and Irish rebels, from religious scholars to soccer players, writes Cian Manning.
Vedrafjordr: Viking Waterford
Waterford is the only Irish city to retain a link to its Viking name. The Vikings used the Norse Vedrafjordr which we now believe to mean ‘Winter Haven’. It is believed that the city was established by the Viking Ragnall or Reginald in 914 AD. Vedrafjordr was a triangular shaped settlement located on a tidal inlet at the confluence of the Suir and St. John’s rivers.
A fort named Dundory was located in the area where Reginald’s Tower stands today. The Irish patriot Thomas Francis Meagher later described the tower as “a massive hinge of stone connecting the two great outspread wings, the Quay and the Mall, within which lay the body of the city.”
Reginald’s Tower is the oldest urban civic building of any Irish city. It is named after the founder of the Viking settlement. The structure was built in two stages, the ground and first floor completed by the late twelfth century while the upper floors were erected in the fifteenth century.
The tower has served as a fortification, a mint and later a prison in the 19th century. It later became the official residence of the High Constable of Waterford, the last person to hold this position was James O’Mahony who died in the tower in 1901. Reginald’s Tower is now a museum which houses numerous artefacts related to the Viking history of the city.
One such object is the Kite Brooch – the finest example of Viking Age metalwork. Weighing 20.6g the brooch was crafted around 1090 and is made from silver adorned with gold foil and amethyst glass studs. It was uncovered over the course of excavations that coincided with the development of City Square Shopping Centre.
The Kite Brooch is a perfect example of Hiberno-Norse design, a fusion of Irish and Scandinavian traditions an d a beautifully crafted piece of personal jewellery.
A Royal City: Anglo-Norman Waterford
Waterford was transformed after the Anglo-Norman invasion of the island of Ireland. This signalled a complete end of the Viking Age and, with the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife taking place in Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford, marked the entwining of the stories of Britain and Ireland for the centuries that followed.
The city grew organically, leading to an extension of the city and its quays. It was conferred a charter by King John in 1215 which the Director of Waterford Museum of Treasures Eamonn McEneaney describes as ‘the Birth Certificate of the city’. The same monarch strengthened the city’s defences prior to conferring the charter.
The city has the largest collection of medieval urban defences in Ireland. During the medieval period Waterford was enclosed by stone and could boast up to thirty towers along its fortifications. Today we can see the remains of eight such towers.
Some of the most notable are Reginald’s Tower, the Beach Tower (located at Jenkins Lane with 15th century Irish crenellations), and the cylindrically shaped Watch Tower at Manor Street, which dates to the 13th century.