Co. Waterford ABC ~ E is for Essence

Co. Waterford ABC is a feature here on Social Bridge where I am identifying my highlights of  this diverse county in Ireland where I was born and which has been ‘home’ for the last 26 years. There will be just 26 posts ~ one for each letter of the alphabet and I hope you will join me in discussing your views about the places, people,  events, things that I select. Would you have chosen differently? In a county with such natural beauty and diversity in terms of history and heritage, one could quite easily identify 26+  highlights for each letter!  (  See All Posts in this Series:

Map of Co. Waterford(Click on Map to Zoom)
Map of Co. Waterford
(Click on Map to Zoom)

I have been wondering for  a while if I dare write about the ‘Essence’ of  Co. Waterford; what are the fundamental features of this ‘home’ county of  mine?  Yes, I do dare and I truly hope that others will add to this bubbling pot of words that have danced off all my senses. 

On February 1, I took off before sunrise to walk around Tramore Beach and Backstrand to celebrate the move into spring. So much of the essence of my Co. Waterford engulfed me in those three delicious hours. Huge waves crashed onto the shore spraying me with the salty invigorating air that I have so long associated with Co. Waterford. The grasses on the dunes glinted as the breeze combed the flowing locks of  the waking beauty.

As the sun rose, my mind was drawn around Brownstown Head, passed Dunmore East and up the Estuary to Waterford City. I had sat in the Tower Hotel , late the night before, just across from historic Reginald’s Tower.  I had been transfixed with thoughts of the history associated with Waterford City, the oldest city in Ireland, as I watched the traffic coming along the Quay and rounding the corner at Reginald’s Tower.  Thoughts of the centrality of Reginald’s Tower to the defence of Waterford; a fleeting glimpse of my late father running towards his ‘digs’ on the Mall in the  1940s; eyes caught by the imposing statue of Thomas Francis Meagher and fascination with his connections to such places as France, Fredericksburg and Montana which have come to have meaning for me too through life’s weavings.

Reginald's Tower, Waterford
Reginald’s Tower, Waterford

A glance back along Tramore Beach before rounding the bend at the channel and the whole coast presented itself ~ the magic of the Copper Coast, Dungarvan, the Ring Penninsula, Ardmore ~ a wondrous stretch of coastline, each place with its uniqueness, history and colour. I wondered if  Pride and Joy was safely moored at Boatstrand. Its name has long captured my imagination in a beautiful harbour that exudes Co. Waterford for me.

Walking along the Backstrand, the mountains of Co. Waterford come into view. Thoughts of Mahon Falls; the stunning scenery of the Nire Valley; West Waterford and the Blackwater Valley. Anticipation  of this years Immrama Travel Writers’ Festival in Lismore; stolen visits to Lismore Castle, Mount Melleray, the old world beauty of Cappoquin.

As I near Tramore, the town that is ‘home’ is lit by the morning sun. I meet Mark Roper and Paddy Dwan, who have such passion for the Backstrand and Co. Waterford generally.  Tramore continues to look down; the Racecourse stands out with its long history and at the other side of the town, above the Doneraile walk, is Tramore Tennis Club, which has such personal meaning for me and which is now the proud club of so many of Ireland’s young tennis stars.

Back on the Prom, I watch the surfers enjoying the waves and totally immersed in the very essence of this sporting county. Only the day before, I had a chance meeting with Ken McGrath, undoubtedly one of the greatest hurlers Waterford will ever see.  Here’s a man who knows the full meaning of Rudyard Kipling’s words in his great poem  If:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch…

Ken McGrath has no airs and graces and is an essential part of the passion that Waterford hurling engenders.

To those who know me, it will probably come as no surprise that I was drawn out to the lay-by between Boatstrand and Kilmurrin to write this piece. Sea beneath me; mountains behind; gulls overhead; Ardkeen Stores in Waterford, which is my treasure trove for sourcing Co. Waterford produce, calling; and happy thoughts of my beloved Mount Congreve Gardens after recently seeing  Tony Gunning’s Exhibition of colourful paintings at Greyfriar’s Church in Waterford.

As I write, I am surrounded  by immense natural beauty and a silvery sheen on the horizon symbolises the hope, colour and buoyancy that I associate with Co. Waterford ~ past, present and future.

Ireland Calling! May 2012 Slideshow

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Ambrose Congreve Remembered with Thanks

Ambrose Congreve, who lovingly established the world-renowned Mount Congreve Gardens in Co. Waterford died on May 24th last year, aged 104. By coincidence, I had visited the Gardens just a day or two before he died and wrote my own personal tribute to him then.

He has been on my mind a good deal over the last year and in the days and weeks following his death, I felt a haunting sadness whenever I passed the closed gates of Mount Congreve which is only about 5 miles from my home in Tramore. I was also jolted a few months ago by finding a black and white photograph among my late father’s collection of my sister and I sitting on the grass by the magnificent greenhouse at Mount Congreve back when I was about six and my sister eleven. I looked at that photograph for a long time and thought of the immense love my parents had for Mount Congreve and how my mother, especially, treasured the fact that it is a woodland garden full of wildflowers as well as the marvellous collection of trees and perennials.

All Winter, I looked forward to the re-opening of the Gardens for this season, gardens which Ambrose Congreve left in Trust for the people of Ireland. I wondered how it would be to return, knowing that Ambrose Congreve, had passed on.

I needn’t have worried. As ever, there was a friendly smile and welcome waiting at the entrance to the Gardens which are open each Thursday. Just as Ambrose Congreve wanted, there was no entry fee and it was so clear that those who were welcoming visitors were passionate about the Garden and its future.

Walking through the Garden, there was a wonderful sense of calm and absolute reassurance. Yes, the bluebells were in full bloom, carpetting the woodland and the trees and vast collection of rhododendrons, magnolias, azeleas … were sparkling with freshness, hope and colour. It was as if they were proudly displaying the heart and passion of Ambrose Congreve and keeping his memory alive.

Much of the talk in recent weeks has been on the forthcoming auction of art and antiques from Mount Congreve House and I read today that the first auction will take place in London next Wednesday, May 23rd.

It seems so fitting that Ambrose Congreve’s first anniversary falls on a Thursday – the one day of the week that Mount Congreve Gardens are currently open. I have a feeling that the sun will be beaming down and that the colours and scents will exude more than ever. I, for one, hope to be there to witness that wonder and whisper my thanks for this great gift that Ambrose Congreve brought to Ireland and has bequeathed to us.


Ireland Calling! April 2012 Slideshow Produced in Collaboration with my US Group on AARP

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Lord Waterford’s Curraghmore ~ A Social Bridge

My passionate interest in Waterfords of the World drew me out yesterday to visit Lord Waterford’s Curraghmore in Portlaw, Co.Waterford.  I write about  the wonders of this magnificent demesne, which were shown to me by the highly knowledgeable  Basil Croeser, in Section Six of Social Bridges.