Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tales of Ireland - Part 3

After a lovely time in Blarney, we left for Waterford around 1:00 pm. No photos to share of the drive there because there was no scenery to speak of. The fog from the rain made the trip less than scenic, which was a shame as the drive involved many roads right near the coast. Oh well.

We made it in time for the last tour of the day at the Waterford Crystal Factory.

Waterford Crystal Factory

Sean and I had received a set of toasting glasses as part of our wedding reception package and his Mom gave us a set of signed candlestick holders as a wedding gift. But to be totally honest - I didn't really "get" the whole crystal thing. Yeah, it's pretty but why is it so expensive? After the tour at the factory, I now have an entirely new appreciation for Waterford crystal.

We had an excellent tour guide named Thomas. We were taken through the actually factory where artisans were hard at work creating pieces. First, molds are made in either cast iron or wood. Then the items are blown BY HAND into the molds. Here's a photo of one of the blown pieces.

Waterford Crystal Artisans

See the heat of the crystal? Amazing! After the crystal is cooled, it is scored to cut off the top (where the crystal met the end of the pipe). Then it is sent off to be carved - BY HAND.

Cutting Waterford Crystal

Yep - there's just this spinning saw and this guy cutting the patterns. No computers to measure the depth of the cuts - all by hand and most of it by memory (sometimes guidelines are drawn).

But then there were these guys. I was absolutely astounded at what they did. They work on adding handles to Lismore pitchers. Unlike other items, the handles for this pitcher are added after the carving is done. This, like the rest of the pitcher is done by hand. But this was amazing to watch....

Waterford Crystal Artisans - adding a handle

The guy on the left drips the hot crystal onto the pitcher and the other guy uses a tool to make ti the perfect shape. Consistent time and time again. AMAZING!

And how these guys are paid is by how many pieces make it through quality control. If the piece is cut wrong or the shape is off or it doesn't meet specification, no money. That is the ultimate motivator for good product. It takes years to learn the trade and become a crystal blower, cutter or handle maker.

Beyond those amazing skills are the staff members who make special carvings for trophies and commissioned pieces. Here's just a sample of some of their work.

Waterford Crystal Vase

Unlike the other employees, they get paid a salary because some of these commissioned pieces can take months to complete.

See why I have a new appreciation for Waterford? Sean and I bought two tumblers in our pattern - at a great price, too - and will even have them signed. I'm worried about some rumors I've heard that Waterford may close since people don't tend to by crystal during a recession. That and the formal china, silver and crystal doesn't grace the wedding registries of many modern couples who choose more affordable items instead. It would be such a shame for Waterford to close. They are true artisans and to lose their skill would be tragic.

That evening, we stayed in Kilkenny, arriving too late to really see much of the town we did find a way to check out a few pubs. The next day we hit the road again, this time for Newgrange.

Newgrange from Distance


More amazing craftsmanship - and this tomb was created before the pyramids in Gaza and the inner tomb has been watertight since then...without any kind of mortar! Just rocks laid on rocks laid on rocks.

Mother Nature was also feeling crafty - she created this gorgeous rainbow as we emerged from the tour of the tomb.

Rainbow at Newgrange

We then drove to Dublin to spend two wonderful nights at the Shelbourne. It is quite possibly the best hotel I have ever stayed in.

While in Dublin, I didn't find much in the way of yarn shops (none, in fact) but I did find a bit of craftiness in the last spot I would have thought to look for it.

We went to Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced 'jail'). The following is taken from Wikipedia on the subject: First built in 1796, it played an important part in Irish history, as many leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned and some executed in the jail. The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held and executed there. There was no segregation of prisoners; men, women and children were incarcerated up to 5 in each cell. The jail was more for political and social crimes than basic thefts (though those criminals were also housed there).

The entire jail closed in 1924 but was reopened as a museum in the mid 1980's. Here's a photo from the last addition to the jail. This particular part of the jail has been featured in movies such as "Michael Collins" and "In the Name of the Father".

Kilmainham Gaol

In addition to the tour, Sean and I walked around the museum exhibits. There were artifacts of all kinds - letters sent and journals kept by prisoners, posters about the Easter uprising, photos and drawings from the different time periods ... then this caught my eye. Yes - a crocheted blouse made by a 17-year-old prisoner! Quite a cute pattern, I think.

Kilmainham Gaol Museum Display - Crocheted Blouse

Crocheted Blouse Details

We spent the evening in Dublin on a literary pub crawl which was excellent. But before we knew it, it was time to pack up the suitcases and get ready to head home. It was then when I realized I hadn't done a stitch of the blanket I wanted to work on while in Ireland. I quickly pulled out the skein of green and the size J crochet hook and made 10 chain stitches. Started in Ireland - it counts. (More on that project in another post.)

It was a wonderful trip to Ireland - for crafty and non-crafty reasons alike. Sean had such a good time that he's already planning a return trip, if possible this year. (He's quite the optimist.) I hope all have enjoyed these three posts about the trip...maybe there will be some more later this year after trip number 2! :)

No comments: