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Celtic Jewelry

Waterford City

Ancient Ireland
Irish Castles
Irish Landscapes

The Waterford area has been inhabited for 5 thousand years or more. Although some sources claim the city was founded by the Deise tribe before 250 AD, there are so far no traces of any such settlement, and most historians agree that the city dates from sometime between 851 and 916 AD, when the slave-trading Vikings established a fortified longphort, or ship's harbour, where the rivers Suir (pronounced "shure") and St. John meet.

Waterford City - click for larger 19k image

Waterford City - View from Ferrybank

The early fortified Viking city was confined to the small area between the river and what is now Christchurch Cathedral (1st spire from left in the picture above).

Reginald's Tower, Waterford CityREGINALD'S TOWER

The usual date of 1003 often given for the construction of the present tower is probably incorrect, but there was an earlier Viking tower, Dundory, on the site or nearby. The site was probably fortified by the Vikings from as early as 851 AD, although these fortifications were mainly of earth and wood. The lower two floors of the present Norman building date from the late 12th/early 13th centuries, with the upper floors being added later.


The first Viking raid in the area was by the Viking leader Sitric in the 850's. The name Waterford comes from the Viking "Vedra Fjord", which means "Weather Fjord". This presumably meant good or fair weather, or possibly a refuge in times of bad weather. Old Irish names are Loch Da Chaoch - Lake of the Two Blind Ones, or possible Lake of the Two Breasts, a reference to two hills north of the city, framing the mouth of the harbour from the sea; and Port Lairge, the Port of the Hindquarters, a reference to the Tain Bo Cualainge. At the end of this 2000 year old epic, the Brown Bull, having impaled and killed the White Bull on his horns, shakes and scatters the carcase across Ireland, the hindquarters landing in Waterford (The ribcage landed in Dublin, resulting in the Irish name Baile Atha Cliath - Town Of the Ford of the Ribcage. Bulls were bulls in those days).

After stiff Irish resistance, Waterford, along with many other Irish settlements, was apparently abandoned by the Vikings at the beginning of the 10th century. But by 916 they were back in force, killing, plundering and taking the native Irish as slaves. Waterford was the first Irish centre to be re-occupied, and from his base here, Regnall (after whom Reginald's Tower is named?), waged war in England, becoming the first Norse ruler of York.

Once the Vikings had control of the Waterford city area, an uneasy truce, broken by occasional raids, seems to have reigned between them and the surrounding Irish, with the emphasis being more on normal trade and alliances than on plunder. The average lifespan in Viking Waterford was probably around 40 years, and the average height of Viking males was about 5' 10".

Recent attempts to market Waterford as "The Viking City" have been met with some bemusement by many in Waterford. The lessons we absorbed at school strongly suggested that the Vikings were a bunch of savage, barbarous murderers and robbers who destroyed a relatively peaceful Golden Age of Celtic Christianity, and who eventually got their come-uppance in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf, when they were defeated by the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. While this is at least half true, in fairness it should be pointed out, just for the sake of accuracy, that the Waterford and Limerick Vikings actually supported Brian Boru, helping to defeat a force of Dublin Vikings and their Irish allies.


The next group to invade Ireland were the Normans, descendants of Norsemen (Vikings) who had invaded northern France (Normandy), and then conquered England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In 1166, the castle of Dermot MacMurrough, king of Leinster, had been burned to the ground during his dispute with the kings of Connaught and Breifne. (Obviously the Irish weren't all Saints and Scholars, but their warfare, although often brutal, was more on the level of localised cattle raids and petty feuding than the mass butchery that was brought by invaders). MacMurrough sought the aid of the Anglo-Norman Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke in Wales, also known as Strongbow. Naturally, the Anglo-Norman king of England and France, Henry the Second, gave permission for the foreign "aid" expedition. Less well known is the fact that the Pope also gave permission.

In 1167 MacMurrough returned to Ireland with a small band of Normans and reclaimed some of his ancestral lands in Ui Ceinnsealaigh (North Wexford). At the battle of Cill Osnach (Kellistown) near Carlow, he was again defeated by the High King of Ireland, Ruairi O'Connor, and the king of Breifne, Tiernan O'Rourke. After a truce, MacMurrough gave hostages, including two of his own sons to Ruairi, agreed to give up his claim to the kingdom of Leinster and sent his Norman allies home. However, MacMurrough was only playing for time, and some of the Normans may have stayed on to help plan the full invasion.

The first invasion force of about 400 men led by Robert FitzStephen arrived at Bannow Bay in early May 1169. They were reinforced the next day by Maurice de Prendergast and 200 men, and soon afterwards by MacMurrough and 500 Irish. Together they attacked and captured the Norse town of Wexford. Later, they attacked the kingdom of Ossory (Kilkenny/Laois), the lands of the O'Connors of Offaly, and of the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles in north Leinster. In spite of their relatively small numbers, the Norman knights and men-at-arms, clad in chain mail, and supported by Welsh archers with cross-bows, were almost invulnerable to the unarmoured native Irish.

The controversial (many Irish historians accuse him of anti-Irish bias and fabrication) medieval monk and historian Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) claims that after 200 Irishmen were killed in Ossory, their heads were laid at Dermot MacMurrough's feet. According to Gerald, Dermot examined the heads one by one. Then, "...among them was the head of one he mortally hated, and taking it by the ears and hair he tore the nostrils and lips with his teeth".

In May 1170, Raymond le Gros landed at Baginbun, on the Hook Peninsula, County Wexford, and was reinforced by Hervey de Monte Marisco. There, this tiny force of about 100 men routed a force of 3,000 Norsemen and Irish from the city and county of Waterford, giving rise to the rhyme "At the creek of Baginbun, Ireland was lost and won". Seventy of Waterford's leaders had been captured, and according to Gerald of Wales "...the wretched captives...had their limbs broken and were cast headlong into the sea and drowned". Even Gerald, who was related to many of the invading Norman knights and who was no admirer of the Irish, says that "The English abused their good fortune by evil and detestable counsels and inhuman cruelty". However, he blamed Monte Marisco - Strongbow's man, and unrelated to Gerald - for the decision, claiming Hervey "...was loaded with weighty and lasting disgrace and infamy; nor could one be found whom his carnage of the citizens did not disgust". A different story, from "The Song of Dermot", is that an axe was given to a Norman woman who had lost her lover in the battle, and that she beheaded all the prisoners and threw their bodies into the sea.

le Gross then waited for Strongbow and his army, which landed at Passage on the 23rd of August. Together they attacked Waterford, which was stoutly defended by the Norsemen and their Waterford Irish allies, the Deise. All attacks failed until le Gross noticed a wooden house protruding from the walls, and by undermining the house managed to breach the walls. The Normans poured through the breach and, according to Gerald of Wales, "slaughtering the citizens in heaps in the streets, won a most bloody victory".

Some time later, Strongbow married Aoife, the daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, in Waterford's Christchurch Cathedral. Under Anglo-Norman law, this gave him succession rights to MacMurrough's kingdom, thereby "legitimising" the land-grab (Strongbow conveniently ignored the fact that, under Irish Brehon law, his marriage gave him no such rights). By winter, the superior armour and weapons, technology, leadership, discipline and organisation of the Normans, and their sheer ruthlessness and greed for land, enabled them to conquer a huge area of the country as far north as Dublin, and by the end of the century, the most fertile half of the country was mostly under their control.


Waterford was the second most important city in Ireland during the medieval period, and Reginald's Tower was visited by a number of English kings over the years - Henry the Second in 1171, his son John in 1185 as prince and again in 1210 as king, Richard the Second in 1394 and 1399, and James the Second after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The mainly wooden and thatch city was burned a number of times. On the first three occasions, 1031, 1037 and 1088, the cause was probably war. In 1111, the fire was started by lightning. After two more disastrous fires, in 1252 and 1280, the authorities took a fairly hard line on firebugs. If your house went on fire, and the fire spread to other houses, the penalty was that you were thrown into the fire. If you escaped the city and were recaptured, you were to be hanged. Talk about zero tolerance.

In the 13th/14th centuries, produce entering the city was taxed to pay for maintaining and entending the city walls. Some of the taxes were as follows : -

  • For every 100 ells of dyed cloth...............4d (1d is one old penny, roughly half a cent)
  • For every frail of woad de Vermundeis....18d
  • For every frail of woad de Kaen...............9d
  • for every 100 pounds of wax and pepper...2d
  • for every 100 salmon, conger and mullet....1d
  • for every hogshead of honey.....................2d
  • for every wey of cheese and butter.............1d
  • For every tymbra of wolves and martens...1/2d
  • for every 100 skins rabbits sheep.........1/2d
  • for every 2000 onions......................1/4d
  • for every 1000 nails.......................1/4d
  • for every millstone........................1/4d
Sorry, but I've no idea what an ell is, or a frail, or a wey, or a tymbra, but they sound good.


After the English Wars of the Roses, there were a number of "Pretenders" to the English throne. In 1495, one of these, Perkin Warbeck besieged the city for 11 days, in retaliation for its refusal to recognise his claim. In the first successful use of artillery by an Irish city, cannon-fire from Reginald's Tower sank one of Warbeck's ships, helping to repel the assault. The city was later given its motto "Urbs Intacta Manet Waterfordia" - "Waterford Remains the Untaken City". Since this motto was bestowed by a grateful English monarch, it has been regarded with something less than pride by many Waterford people.

Most of the above information, to which I've applied a slight anti-invader spin, on Viking and Anglo-Norman Waterford history is from Tourist Board literature, from "History of Waterford City and County" by Patrick C. Power, from "The Promontory of Hook" by Billy Colfer, from "The Norman Invasion of Ireland" by Richard Roche, and from "Reading the Irish Landscape" by Frank Mitchell and Michael Ryan. These are all excellent, clearly written books for the general reader.

Even at 4 per adult, the new museum at The Granary, Merchants Quay is worth a visit. It's got brooches and combs and rings and pins, games and arrows and bows and clothes, coats of arms and cannon and hats, chalices, maces, amber and glass, swords and charters and silver and gold.
Allow at least 2-3 hours to see it properly.

Opening Hours
10AM - 5PM October - March
9.30AM - 6PM April, May and September
9.30AM - 9PM June, July and August.


After the Elizabethan Wars, culminating in the 1601 Battle of Kinsale and the 1607 Flight of the Earls, much of the power of the remaining Old Gaelic Irish lords was broken. The northern province of Ulster was planted with tens of thousands of new English and Scottish settlers, and most of the Old Irish dispossessed. In 1641, afraid of further dispossession by the growing power of the harshly anti-Catholic Puritan movement in England, the Old Irish in Ulster rebelled, and thousands of Protestant settlers were massacred. There has been controversy about the actual numbers killed in the early weeks of the uprising, with some early English reports, which must have influenced people like Cromwell and Ireton, putting the figure as high as 150,000. Most modern historians estimate that around 4,000 - 5,000 Protestant men, women and children were massacred or murdered at the start of the uprising, mainly in Ulster, that tens of thousands more were killed or died of hunger and disease within two or three years, and possibly as many as 112,000 Protestants in total died throughout Ireland between 1641 and 1652.

Retaliation by English government and New English Protestant forces was somewhat indiscriminate, and within months had only served to drive the Old English to join with the Old Irish, both groups being Catholic. This uneasy alliance was cemented at the 1642 Confederation of Kilkenny. The city of Waterford, being strongly Old English, supported the Confederation. Years of war and more atrocities by all sides followed. Late in the 1640's, the picture became more confused. With the outbreak of the Second Civil War in England between Royalist supporters of the king and supporters of Parliament, Irish Protestant Royalists sought a truce/alliance with the Kilkenny Confederation. The Confederates, in spite of the wars, had always claimed loyalty to the king, their fight being mainly for Catholic rights. The truce was accepted by the Old English members of the Confederation, but not by the Old Irish, and a Catholic civil war ensued, mainly fought against Eoin Roe (Roe=Rua=Red) O'Neill's Ulster army. It wasn't to be until late in 1649, after the Cromwellian massacre at Drogheda, that O'Neill rejoined the Confederation.

In August 1649, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell and his parliamentarian New Model Army - The Roundheads - landed at Dublin. After Cromwell's massacres of thousands of defeated soldiers and citizens, including women and children, at Drogheda and Wexford, the successful defence of the relatively modern fort at Duncannon (shown left), County Wexford , in October/November 1649 delayed Cromwell's ships in their attempt to deploy heavy siege guns against Waterford. By the time Cromwell captured Passage Fort on the opposite bank, allowing his ships access upriver, the ground around Waterford's town walls was too wet from winter rains to support the heavy guns. The town had also been reinforced by Lieutenant-General Richard Farrell and 1,500 of Eoin Roe O'Neill's Ulster troops, and was by now too well defended for the unbreached walls to be stormed. Cromwell's army had also been weakened by disease and by the need to garrison captured towns. So, Cromwell withdrew to winter quarters in Dungarvan, and Waterford became the only town in Ireland to sucessfully withstand an attack personally commanded by Cromwell.
Double Tower, Waterford
Although the 13th or 14th century walls of the Double Tower (shown left) in Castle Street had not been built to withstand cannon, by half filling the interior of the tower with earth, the defenders enabled it to survive Cromwell's bombardment.

8 months later, however, town after town had fallen to Cromwell's forces. In May, in response to the threat of the Royalist armies in Scotland, Cromwell had left Ireland for England, his destruction of old Gaelic Ireland almost complete. Waterford had been completely cut off from all outside aid, an outbreak of plague was killing 400 of Waterford's citizens and defenders every week, and the commander, Thomas Preston, had less than 700 half-starved soldiers and townsmen left to defend the walls. Ireton launched a two-pronged attack on August 10th, one burning the suburbs, the other involving a bombardment of the city from the parliamentary frigates on the river. The walls near Newgate Street were scaled and the few defenders there killed. The nearby gate was opened, and new attackers swarmed through. The main part of the town fell, the defenders in the citadel of St. Patrick's Fort (now demolished) held out for terms, and then surrendered. Unlike at Drogheda and Wexford, the surrender terms were generous - Cromwell's policy of not giving quarter to defeated towns had initially terrified many towns and castles into quick surrender, but it had stiffened resistance in places such as Duncannon, Waterford, Kilkenny and Clonmel**, where the mainly Catholic defenders felt they had nothing to lose. So, Cromwell, being a practical fanatic, had changed the policy, and the remaining men of the Waterford garrison were allowed to march away and the citizens were not to be harmed. With Waterford and all surrounding towns lost, there was little point in Duncannon holding out, and it too surrendered, on similar terms.

cannonball, Reginald's Tower, Waterford
Embedded in the wall of Reginald's Tower, just to the right of the top left window, can still be seen a cannonball from Ireton's assault.

**Cromwell suffered his greatest defeat in Ireland or anywhere else at Clonmel, losing thousands of his men - 10% of his entire force in Ireland - in a single day, to a desperate defence, using everything from cannon to pitchforks, by Hugh O'Neill and his army. However, O'Neill (nephew of Eoin Roe O'Neill, who had died the previous November. Eoin Roe was the nephew of Hugh The Great O'Neill 1550-1616) and his men were almost out of ammunition and supplies. This was mainly due to Cromwell's meticulous attention to detail in planning his campaigns, and his consequent ability to isolate opposing towns and armies. So, O'Neill and his army slipped out of Clonmel at night, the town surrendered the next day, and Cromwell's greatest defeat became an important victory.

Direct military action between 1641 and 1652 resulted in over 100,000 casualties. The companions of war, famine and disease brought total losses to the almost incredible total of over 600,000. All this was from a prewar population of less than 2 million. Although as many as 1,000,000 Irish may have died during the Great Famine in 1845-1849 (from a population total of 8 million), and some of the causes of the Famine date from 1641-1652 and that war's aftermath, in percentage terms the period 1641-1652 was probably the most horrific and destructive in Irish history, and the bitterness it generated continues today (See also Violence in Ireland ). We should be grateful that we didn't live in those times.

The above information on the 1641-1652 period is mainly from "Cromwell in Ireland" by Colonel James Scott Wheeler, Associate Professor of European History at the US Military Academy at West Point.

TO COME - The Penal Laws, The 1798 Rebellion, Catholic Emancipation 1829, The Great Famine 1845-1849.

French Tower, Waterford

Old City walls and towers
(Watch Tower, Double Tower and French Tower)
The slit windows were for archers,
the wider windows with round
holes at their bases were for small cannon.

Beach Tower, Waterford

Beach Tower
Anglo-Norman Extension
13th Century?

Blackfriars Priory, Waterford

Blackfriars Priory
Founded in 1226.

Old church, Waterford

old church, Waterford

Franciscan Friary, Waterford

Franciscan Friary
with Christchurh spire
in left background

Franciscan Friary, Waterford

Franciscan Friary

Christchurch Cathedral, Waterford

Christchurch Cathedral

French Tower, Waterford

French Tower
Tower is an unusual 3/4 moon shape

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Last updated August 28th 2000.
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