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Waterford City 

Structure:  Latitude:  52º  16' North, Longitude  7º   7' West

The rocks which form the base of the City all belong to the Palaeozoic Group: principally Ordovician Shales, underlying some Sandstone on the North West, and crossed - East of the centre of the City - by an Alluvial bank running N.E./S.W. At the cliffs on the North and South banks of the River Suir, above Rice Bridge, inter-stratification of sharply-folded Ordovician Slates and Sandstone conglomerates may be clearly observed.

Position: Waterford city is situated on the river Suir [pronounced Shure] about seventeen miles from where the river enters the sea. The only thing that distinguishes this first abatement is the inadequacy of the word 'situated'. In design almost fanlike, practically the entire city is built on the south bank of the river. The "Old town", now the business centre, clusters behind the broad quay-front on a low-lying strip of land left behind by a gentle loop of the river at this point. From this, the land rises sharply to the east and opposite to the west while remaining level in between. The eastern slopes are almost entirely occupied by private residential estates, while the western and southwestern prominences are largely given over to local authority housing development. There are corresponding elevations on the north bank eastwards towards Christendom and westwards towards Mount Misery.

  It is from this latter point—high above the Suir, upstream from the river bridge—that the city and its setting may best be observed. Here, the heights on both sides of the Suir persist to the very banks, with the result that the river courses for a short distance between towering cliffs before emerging to sweep in one majestic reach past the city. Where it goes by Waterford, the Suir is as wide as the Thames at Westminster Bridge, the Vistula at Warsaw or the Neva at St. Petersburg; it is three times the width of the Tiber at Rome, the Seine at Paris or the Mansanares at Madrid: and five times the width of the Liffey at O'Connell Bridge. It is not surprising then that it is from the river that Waterford gets its civic character. From our observation point the spacious mile-long quays extend in an unbroken line eastwards. The broad quays of Waterford have attracted attention since they were opened up to the present length 300 years ago by the Corporation. Behind the tall quayside buildings the city's steeples and towers rise in picturesque irregularity presenting a picture typical of the older towns, in which ground contours dictated the layout of the earlier streets. This gradually gives way to the more regular development of later years fringing the city on all sides. Such are the elements forming a city that the natives are reputed to be slow to leave without a struggle. 

  But history credits Waterford men with more attributes than a reluctance to leave their native city. In the middle of the 15th century the citizens were reported to be 'heedy and wary in public affairs, slow in determining matters of weight, and loving to look ere they leap.' The Irish word 'faid-ceannnac' has been applied to them too. This has been translated ‘long-headed’ with more zeal than accuracy; it really means far-sighted.' Charles I found the people of Waterford “endowed with good learning and generous manners." A present day writer found in Waterford "an air of quiet" and "a sense of proportion" and described the people as being "undemonstrative" He added  "they do not lack intelligence or amiability, they just have them implicit." This traditional reticence and absence of flamboyance in the Waterford character has been responsible for the phenomenon perhaps peculiar to Waterford, of the occasional emergence before the citizenry of vociferous prophets having their origin outside the bounds of the city. Their aim has been to insinuate that their superiority over the natives in all matters is in direct ratio to the relative degree of clamour created by each; the which of course has no basis in fact and is merely an optical—or more correctly—an acoustical illusion.

The foundation of Waterford is claimed in some quarters to have taken place late in prehistoric times. Other writers place the event about the middle of the second century. However, it is difficult to go along any distance with either theory on the strength of the supporting evidence quoted. At any rate the antiquity of the place where Waterford now stands cannot be traced with any satisfactory degree of certainty beyond about 850 A.D. when the site was occupied and fortified by Sitric the Dane
. The inhabitants of this part of Ireland in pre-Danish times were a pastoral people moving from place to place with their flocks or else given to hunting. They did not build towns, unless we admit as towns the settlements that sometimes sprang up in the neighbourhood of Monasteries. They certainly did not build sea-ports, and it was as a sea-port that Waterford had its beginning.  

  The Ostmen or Danes as they are more commonly called, persuaded by the rigours of their own inhospitable clime, had taken to the high seas in search of plunder. During the first half of the ninth century the shores of south-east Ireland were ravaged time after time by Danish expeditions, Ardmore and Lismore being the subjects of a number of raids. At the outset, these bellicose incursions took place only during the summer months, the raiders returning home with their spoils at the onset of winter. About 853 A.D., however, Sitric, the Danish chieftain, settled at Waterford and set up a fortified encampment. A number of factors influenced the choice of the site. The place provided a splendid anchorage. It was the lowest point at which the river could at that time be forded. Above all, the site could easily be defended. It was protected on three sides by water; in front by the Suir; on the east and at rear by St. John's River and the marshes flanking it. St. John's River did not then, as now, flow neatly between regular banks. Rather, its tortuous and uncontained stream meandered over much of the ground now occupied by Lombard Street, William Street, the People's Park, Catherine Street, and Parnell Street, turning this entire area into viscous marshland. These marshes also extended westwards round the back of the site of the old town. Only on the west itself were substantial fortifications necessary. This was Waterford in its infancy, a Danish stronghold, subject to constant harassment by the Irish outside the walls, who broke in on more than one occasion to lay waste the foreign colony.  

  The next phase in the life of Waterford began on August 25th, 1170 when the town was taken by the Normans under Strongbow. The Normans had been casting eyes in this direction for some time prior, until MacMurrough’s invitation gave them cause for coming. Henry II arrived in Waterford the following year to keep the expeditionary chiefs in line and receive their homage. The next royal visitor, in 1185, was prince John, who granted the city's first Charter in 1205 thus starting City Government in Waterford.  He revisited the city as king in 1211.  Richard II, too, visited Waterford twice, first in 1394 and again in 1399

  In l487 the city refused to obey the direction of the Earl of Kildare to recognise Lambert Simnel as king and ten years later repulsed a second pretender, Perkin Warbeck. It was as a result of this latter engagement that Waterford became known as the Urbs Intacta a title conferred by Henry II. Printing was introduced into Waterford in 1550, the first book being printed in the city five years later. It was in 1588 that Duncannon was fortified as a precaution against Spanish attacks along the coast, which were being experienced at the time

  Waterford was occupied by Mountjoy in 1603 and visited by Rinuccini in 1648. The latter, in his Report on the Affairs of Ireland sent to Pope Innocent X, described Waterford as being "one of the only two Irish cities he would place in the front rank for reverence to the Holy See." In l649, the city was unsuccessfully besieged by Cromwell, but was forced to surrender to his Deputy, Ireton, in the summer of the following year. After the Battle of the Boyne, both James and William came by Waterford, James on his way to France and William returning to England. It was soon after this, about 1700, that the Huguenots came to Waterford.

  There was no armed uprising in the neighbourhood as part of the 1798 rebellion, the probability of such being set aside by the defeat at Wexford. There was, however, considerable United Ireland activity in the city and district, where secret recruitment had been going on apace. Among those arraigned for seditious activity at the time was the toll collector of the then five-year-old wooden bridge.

  In l826, Waterford returned Villiers Stuart to parliament against the opposition of Lord George Beresford, the outgoing candidate and powerful landowner in the district. Stuart was put forward by Daniel O'Connell's Catholic Association and O'Connell personally led his campaign here. Though not a Catholic himself, Stuart was a man of liberal views and his election was an important step in the way to Catholic Emancipation which came three years later.

  The Great Faminc of 1846-48 made itself felt in the city and the Corporation records of the period refer to several money grants to relieve the distress of the people.  The fact that there were large quantities of rice in Waterford, saved the city from the worst effects of disastrous shortage in their normal food supply.


  There is no record of the extent of any settlement that may have existed at Waterford prior to the middle of the 9th century. The Danish colony founded about that time (853 A.D.) was triangular in shape and contained 15 acres approximately. This area was enclosed by stout ramparts linking Reginald's Tower with St. Martin's Castle (site in Spring Garden Alley); from thence running to Turgesius' Tower, which stood in the immediate vicinity of the Allied Irish Bank (corner of Barronstrand St.) and returning along the river-front to Reginald's Tower.

  Substantial remains of the wall in the 500 metre stretch between Reginald's Tower and St. Martin's Castle still exist, except where broken by the erection of the City Hall and the opening of Colbeck Street (former (Colbeck Gate). These traces may be observed between the houses of the Mall and Bailey's New Street and, further up, between Spring Garden Alley and Lady Lane, about 12 metres back from the northern frontage of the former. In the old handball alley, some four metres of the Wall—in places six metres high—stand exposed. Also, parts of the breastwork of St. Martin's Castle have been incorporated in the foundations and lower courses of the buildings that now stand on its former site.

  There are a few traces at the wall linking St. Martin's Castle with Turgesius' Tower, and which followed the line of Michael Street and Broad Street, about sixteen to twenty metres back from the present eastern frontage of these streets.

  The wall fronting the Quay has completely disappeared. It was demolished and the material thrown down to form the foundation of the present Quays, partly under the Cromwellian Commissioners in 1650 and totally by the Corporation of 1705, which improved and enlarged the Quays.

- Extracted from Waterford, A Municipal Directory.

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