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May 20, 2006: Ireland Trip - Waterford

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We got up early this morning and headed downstairs for breakfast, which is served in the owner's tiny little living room, right next to a fish tank and a fireplace. Very cozy. Then it was off to tour Waterport and see how much ground we could cover in just one day.

Our first destination was the Treasures of Waterford, which is a museum tucked into the same building where the Tourist Information office is located. They hand you audio wands and as you wander through the exhibits, there are numbers displayed, which can be entered into the wand so you can hear interesting information about the things on display. The exhibit pretty much went through the entire history of Waterford up until about the 19th century, starting from the Vikings, moving on to the Normans, and the of course the whole messy history with the English. The layout was sometimes a bit confusing - the audio portion would indicate that we were to move in one direction when in fact the next part of the exhibit was off in the opposite direction - but that was only a minor issue. They have the original charter of Waterford on display, which was pretty interesting to see, and of course there was something about the Butler family because it seems as if the Butlers had their fingers in pretty much every part of Ireland we've seen so far. They were busy, those Butlers.

We ate lunch in the little cafeteria next to the museum and then went on to Reginald's Tower, which stands down at the end of the Quay and is the last remaining tower from the walls that stood around Waterford hundreds of years ago. The tower was used at one point as a mint, so there was lots of history about the various people who'd been in charge of that, as well as a number of historical coins on display.

Next we headed off to the ChristChurch Cathedral, which is right next to our B&B, and went inside to wander around. This particular cathedral is famous for a few reasons - the first is that the architect who designed it also designed the Catholic church down the road (a big deal back in those days); the second because James Rice, a former mayor of the town, is buried there, and at his request, his body was exhumed a year after he was buried and an effigy of his corpse was put on top of his tomb, with a little inscription to look on him and know that he was once as we were, and anyone looking at him will eventually become just like him. The guidebooks all described this particular effigy as 'gruesome' but I just thought it was pretty interesting. I found it amusing that they included in the statue the little critters (mainly frogs, it appeared) who were dug up with the corpse.

Then we headed back to Reginalds Tower because just around the corner from our B&B were the ruins of the French Church, and the guidebooks said we could ask for someone at the Tower to let us in so we could wander. They did more than that - a very friendly man led us over, opened the gates, and then walked us around and talked about the history of the ancient church, including showing us a few of the oldest gravemarkers and explaining some of the family coats of arms and how to read the text around the edges. Then he asked us if we wanted to see something really different, and we said of course, and he led us off across the street to this unassuming door, opened it, and led us into an undercroft. There were, in fact, two of them - an upper and a lower one, and he said that they figure the people who built the upper one probably had no idea the other was there, and that the lower one likely dates from the 12th century. In fact, the way they discovered the lower one is that some historian was visiting someone who lived in a house above it sometime in the 18th or 19th century and noticed an old stairway spiraling down in a closet. He asked the owners where it went, since he immediately recognized that it was extremely old, and they didn't know. Apparently they'd just been using it as a place to toss trash! And even more amazing, once they finally got inside, it was stuffed full of trash, layers upon layers of it that likely went back hundreds of years. Unfortunately at that time no one really thought it was worth it to keep the trash itself, so out it all went (archaeologists all over the world must be gnashing their teeth and weeping in horror every time they learn about this sort of thing), but they did at least recognize the significance of what they'd found, and set about trying to restore and protect it.

So we got to see this amazing little thing, hidden behind a little door in a little back alleyway; something that isn't listed in any of the guidebooks we've read. It was very cool.

We wandered around the streets for a while longer, trying to find a restaurant that was recommended in the guidebook, but which no longer exists (in fact that entire street was being ripped up and redone). So instead we found a little Italian place close to our B&B and had dinner there, and then did a bit more wandering until our feet were tired and so were we.

Richard's gone off to a pub to hear some local music, but I elected to stay back at the B&B. We've been doing a lot of walking this past week, and while we've joked about this being my crash training program for the Avon Walk (please sponsor me!), it's starting to catch up with us.

Pictures from Waterford are here

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