County Waterford in the southeast of Ireland is known best for its Viking past and Norman monuments. Waterford City, founded in 914 by Viking settlers, is officially the oldest city in the country, but the name is a bit of a misnomer. Waterford, it turns out, actually comes from the Norse word Veðrafjǫrðr, meaning “windy ford,” and eventually became transliterated as “Waterford.” Today, visitors flock to these Norse remains and Norman edifices, many of which are still in use today as museums, private houses, and public buildings. Below are our top five places to visit in this historic county.
5. CATHEDRAL OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity is the oldest standing Catholic cathedral in Ireland. Built in the 1790s by architect John Roberts, who was responsible for much of Waterford’s Georgian architecture that still exists today, the Roman Catholic cathedral boasts House of Waterford Crystal chandeliers and a pipe organ that dates back to 1848.
4. CURRAGHMORE HOUSE & GARDENS
Encompassing more than 2,500 acres of pasture, garden, and woodland, Curraghmore House and Gardens is the largest private residence in Ireland. Built in the 12th century for the de la Poer family, who arrived with the Norman Invasion of 1170, the house is still occupied by their descendants. Of interest to any civil engineers or infrastructure buffs, the oldest documented bridge on the island of Ireland is found on the estate grounds, having been completed over the Clodagh River in 1205. The grounds are open to the public and private tours of the house itself are available to curious parties.
3. COMERAGH MOUNTAINS & COUMSHINGAUN LOUGH
Though the Comeragh Mountains only rise to a height just shy of 2,600 feet, the 12 peaks that comprise this Ice Age formation are among the most beautiful in the country. The highest point in the mountain range is Fauscoum Mountain, at 2,598 feet, and most are easily hikable with trails plainly marked. The crown jewel of the mountains however, isn’t a mountain at all, but a glacial lake, called a currie, named Coumshingaun Lough, the largest such lake in the country, formed by receding glaciers thousands of years ago. On sunny days, the water is a metallic blue, pristinely set at the bottom of vertiginous stone cliffs, and arguably one of the most romantic spots in the country.
2. CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
The first Church of Ireland cathedral on this site was built in the 11th century and hosted the marriage of Strongbow, otherwise known as Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, to Aoife, daughter of Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster, in 1170. This marriage solidified Norman control of Leinster as Strongbow was able to claim the right of inheritance to the crown of the kingdom through Aoife under Norman law. It marked the first time that any of Ireland’s then five kingdoms were ruled by someone from across the Irish Sea, laying the groundwork for English conquest centuries later.
The cathedral that stands today is the third iteration of the building, having been completed in 1770 under the guidance of architect John Roberts and is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian Neoclassical architecture in the country.
1. VIKING TRIANGLE & MEDIEVAL MUSEUM
Waterford City is officially the oldest incorporated city in Ireland, founded by Vikings in 914. The oldest parts of the city, including some of its original stone defensive walls, still remain in the city center, appropriately dubbed the Viking Triangle. Within this single square mile area of Waterford, visitors will find Reginald’s Tower, built in 1003 and now housing Waterford’s Viking Museum, which has a full-scale replica of a Viking long ship for tourists and locals to enjoy, as well as the Medieval Museum. The Medieval Museum is the only place in Ireland to incorporate two medieval rooms into a museum of this scale, which houses artifacts from throughout the Middle Ages and hosts tours led by costumed re-enactors.
Have you visited any of these sites in County Waterford? Did we leave your favorite Waterford destination off our list? Let us know in the comments below!