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Waterford, founded in approximately 853 AD by Viking raiders, is Ireland's oldest city. Native Irishmen drove the Vikings out of Waterford as well as all other settlements in Ireland in 902. They re-established their foothold in Waterford in 914.They erected an earthen wall, a fort, and Reginald's Tower, a 54-foot high circular tower, which is 42.5 feet in diameter.

The Normans conquered Waterford in 1170, and soon, they replaced the earthen walls with walls of stone. It was built as part of a defense system, but Reginald's Tower has been used in many capacities over the centuries: a mint, a jail, and storage for munitions. In 1495, cannons from the Tower kept Perkin Warbeck, pretender to the throne of Henry VII, out during an 11-day siege, marking the first successful use of artillery by any city in Ireland. Cannons in the Tower sunk two of Warbeck's ships.

George and William Penrose founded a glass factory, Waterford Glass, in 1783. The two business knew nothing about making glass, so they hired John Hill, a compounder who knew the secret of mixing materials for glass. Soon, Waterford Glass was known around the world for its excellent quality. Mr. Hill had to leave town suddenly three years later, but before he left, he gave his formula to clerk Johathan Getchell for his friendship and sympathy during the crisis which caused him to leave. Jonathan soon became a glass compounder.

William died in 1796, and his family put the company up for sale. It sold in 1799 to James Ramsey, Ambrose Barcroft, and Jonathan Getchell, the former clerk, now glass compounder. Ramsey died in 1810, and the partnership was dissolved. Jonathan became the sole proprietor and remained in that position until he died in 1823. His left the company to his son George, who carried on until 1851 when it became too much for George to handle, and the factory closed its doors.

In 1947, Charles Bacik came to the area and established Waterford Glass. Bacik had owned four Bohemian glass factories in Czechoslovakia, until the Communists took them over in 1946. He hired Miroslav Havel, who had studied Getchell's crystal patterns, to be his chief designer. Havel was inspired by crystal from the 18th and 19th centuries, and those patterns turned into the foundation of his designs. His design, Lismore, is still the best selling crystal pattern in the world. The company went into receivership in early 2009. In 2010, the company struck a deal with the Waterford City Council to open a new Waterford Crystal factory in the middle of the city. The factory produces more than 45,000 pieces every year.

In the summer of 1845, the potato famine began in Europe, and by September of that year, the blight came to Waterford and the surrounding area. By the spring of 1846, more than 40% of the potato crop was ruined, and by December of 1845, the population of the Dungarvan workhouse had risen by 63% compared with the same week the year before. Potatoes, Ireland's main crop, failed completely in 1846, and many feared starvation. Violence and public disorder were common. Soup kitchens opened in early 1847, and donations from around the world, while helpful, weren't reaching everyone. Many people were too weakened by hunger to work, and 6,464 people -- more than 3% of the 1841 population in Waterford -- died .

While the harvest of 1847 was largely free of blight, due to lack of manpower, there was not a full harvest, and though what was available was good, the economic fallout was massive. Charitable donations of money and food stopped coming in because the British government said that the famine was over. The temperature dropped to extremely frigid. Even so, hopes were up due to the small but healthy crops of 1847. Full fields were planted, but in the middle of June, the wetness of the ground made crop failure a sure thing. These failures were even worse than those of 1846. Add to that the rate increases, and the outlook was even more bleak. Farmers emigrated fled, unable to face another year of having nothing and losing everything. That left landlords with empty farms, no rent, and escalating rate increases everywhere went bankrupt. 1848 was a bust, and in 1849, empty shops and warehouses dotted the area. The British government declared the famine official over. But it was far from over.

Spring of 1849 brought cholera to Waterford. Mortality in Waterford City and County peaked; 31% of all famine deaths in Waterford happened in 1849, and workhouse population also peaked in Waterford, as well as throughout the country. The 1849 potato harvest was good too. 1850's harvest was even better. The potato famine was officially over.

Reginald's Tower became the property of the Waterford Corporation in 1861. During World War II, Reginald's Tower served as an air raid shelter, and in 1954, Reginald's Tower became a museum.

 

 

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