Waterford, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Waterford Crystal

This is nearing the end of the pictures from my Ireland trip in the fall of 2007.

Waterford was one of the last stops on the Irish trip, and on a Saturday. We didn’t know if the crystal factory was open as some guidebooks and maps said no while others said yes. It turned out it was so we zipped in after the Lismore adventures and a short stop at Carrick on Suir to see the disappointing and locked (and fenced) supposed Castle Ormonde. This wasn’t a castle at all but a manor house, very plain and maybe three stories high. Previous incarnations were probably a real castle but no evidence was left of this. Booo! I highly recommend not bothering to see it.

So we made it to Waterford with enough time to browse the shops and go on the hour tour. I have a fair number of friends who are glass artists so it was quite amazing to see a glassblowing factory of this size. There were several buildings and although it was a Saturday there was at least one or more people working in each section.

There was the special section for one-of-a-kind molds. Some molds are made of wood and used to shape the glass. The molds may only be used a few times (the wooden ones) before the high heat of soft glass starts to burn into the wood, but wood is still better than using metal which will expand with heat and change the size. It’s used for more specific and high-end pieces. A technique used for hundreds of years and not changed much.

In another building was an assembly line of blowers blowing into molds. These molds were smaller, for glasses and such and often of metal. There was a conveyor belt where the finished pieces were put before moving on to the annealer (where glass is cooled at specific temperatures so that it doesn’t crack and break). And people lined up with each blower to change the molds. Other areas held  row on row of cutters, because we’re talking crystal and that means cutting it, and another smaller room for engravers. The engravers are the only workers in the factory who aren’t paid by the piece because it could take months to engrave one piece. As well, there was a quality inspection area. Every single piece is inspected and must pass high standards.

All the pieces are hand blown or molded, and hand cut or engraved. Then these pieces of crystal are put through a hydrochloric acid bath that takes off the sharp edges and white brushed look to the glass. I remember some older pieces of crystal goblets my mother had which had sharp edges. Obviously the acid baths are of a newer era. To me, I kept thinking they weren’t crystal because of the soft edges but I was wrong on that.

I ran into a glass artist here in Vancouver who said that their local studio did an order for Waterford (Waterford has factories in various countries). Waterford Crystal’s Q&A (quality and assurance) team came over and the studio only had a 50% acceptance rate, the controls were so stringent. It was quite amazing to watch the cutting and engraving and the sheer size of the factory. I was curious how they got the rounded edges on the cuts. Now I know but I still don’t find crystal that appealing. Meh.

We drove on that evening to Kilkenny, home of the beer, of course. We almost lost our luck for B&Bs. We tried two pubs, asking if they knew of anything and were told everything was full. It was always better to ask where there were older people serving as the younger ones weren’t that friendly or helpful. We drove to three B&Bs that were all full and finally found a nice little house with a very friendly couple. Turns out Kilkenny is a college town where everyone comes on the weekend to party. And yes, it was the weekend.

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Filed under art, Culture, driving, history, Ireland, people, travel, Writing

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