Edmund Spenser, the 16th century English poet penned the words ‘the gentle Shure that making way. By sweet Clonmel, adorns rich Waterford’. As we follow the river Suir we reach Ireland’s oldest city founded by the Vikings and are presented with a majestic Quayside. The British architectural historian Mark Girouard (grandson of Henry Beresford, 6th Marquess of Waterford) remarked that it was ‘the noblest quay in Europe.’ The Quay is a mile in length with the Dublin Penny Journal of December 1832 recording ‘and presents a continued line with scarcely any interruption throughout its entire extent’. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city which thrived along a river that afforded a depth of water from twenty to sixty-five feet at low water which could accommodate vessels of up to 800 tons mirroring mansion pieces on a Monopoly board.
As one enters Waterford city by crossing Rice Bridge and turning left the half-way point of the Quay is marked by the Clock Tower. The renowned 19th century Gothic style landmark also illustrates the previous industriousness of the city’s docks with water troughs for horses. Continuing along the Quay you will pass four laneways on the right with the last of the quartet being Keyser’s Street. The city derives its name from the Norse Veðrafjǫrðr meaning ‘Winter Haven’.
However, it is not the only name that Waterford bares of it’s Viking past. The aforementioned Keyser’s Street is a name of Norse origin while the street dates to the medieval period. ‘Keyser’ meaning way of the ship wharf or path to pier head. The former Publicity Officer of South East Tourism, Patrick Mackey noted that this is where the ship wharves were situated. The street runs southwards of Custom House Quay and reaches the junction of High Street and Olaf Street. As part of the Viking fortifications, there stood a Keyser’s Castle and by 1707 these walls from John Aikenhead’s Coffee House (the first coffee house in Waterford city and listed in the corporation minutes of 1695) to William Jones’s new house by Goose Gate (named after the 17th century Searcher of Customs Thomas Goose) were pulled down. It was ordered that the stones from the battlements would be used in the construction of a Corn Market where the old Custom House stood.
Down through the centuries this street has been referred to by a couple of different names. A deed of lease between William Bolton and a clothier, Samuel Pearn records the name Kimpsha Lane. In the Civil Survey map of 1764 the street is referred to as Kempson’s Lane.
Now the street captures the hustle and bustle of modern life from the trade union movement to the workings of the General Post Office. It’s best to finish with the words of a 19th century poem evoking Waterford’s Viking connections with the story of Keyser Street in mind:
Like golden-belted bees about a hive
Which come forever and forever go
Going and coming with the ebb and flow,
From year to year, the strenuous Ostman strive.
Close in their billow-battling galleys prest,
Backhands and forwards with the trusty tide
They sweep and wheel around the ocean wide,
Like eagles swooping from their cliff-built nests.
And great their joy, returning where they left
Their tricorned stronghold by the Suirshore
‘Mid song and feast, to tell their exploits o’er –
Of all the helm-like glibs their swords had cleft,
The black-haired damsels seized, the towers attacked.
The still monastic cities they had sucked.
Submitted by Cian for our Placenames of the Three Sisters project for Heritage Week 2020