Waterford, a harbour fit for a King

On a recent walk, an American visitor asked me if any royalty sailed up the harbour, rather smugly I listed off several, though I said, these were only the ones I knew about.  Probably several others had done so, and countless ordinary souls making the city and the country what it is today.

The royals included Henry II who landed at Passage in 1171 following the successful invasion of Strongbow the year before from the same point.  Henry came to assert his authority over the newly won territory and arrived with 400 knights and horses with 4000 men at arms and attendants on what was estimated on 400 ships.  Such a sight that must have been in the harbour.  History books claim he was the first foreign king to set foot on Irish soil, although I’m sure there must have been plenty of Celt and Viking that might disagree.

sourced from https://www.thetapestryhouse.com/tapestries

Of course the Norman conquest was just the beginning of such displays.  Henry’s youngest son and eventual heir, King John landed in the harbour in June 1210.  He had already visited as a prince of the realm in 1185.  On that visit it was said the young prince nearly died, apparently from his taste for too much Salmon. Returning as King, he seems to have been more restrained, though it did see the extension of the city walls and fortifications and the granting of the first royal charter to the city. Mind you he is probably best known as the baddy in Robin Hood films.  John’s fleet was said to number 700 ships!

Richard II arrived in the harbour on the 2nd October in 1394.  His intention was to bring to heal the rebelling Irish chieftains. To impress them one chronicler estimated that he had 30,000 archers amongst his troop! and 4000 men at arms.  Whatever the truth of the matter, it was most probably another very large flotilla to be seen at anchor or beached in the harbour area.  If it was even twice the size of John’s flotilla, it must have been possible to walk from Passage to Ballyhack across the decks.

sourced from http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.ie/2014/11/

Two kings departed from the harbour in 1690, but under very different circumstances.  Following the battle of the Boyne, King James II fled to France and exile while King William III returned to the English court as victor.  We’ve told their story previously.

When a young Queen Victoria visited during the summer of 1849 it was by accident rather than design.  Parliament were of the opinion that a royal visit was just the ticket to clam the starving Irish, post famine! so not only today’s politicians can be out of step with the public mood. Enroute to Dun Laoghaire from Cobh, the royal yacht encountered heavy seas and to spare the queen and her children further sickness they arrived into the harbour and anchored above Passage to weather the storm.  Victoria didn’t set foot on land however, she stayed aboard whilst her husband and two sons took the royal tender “Fairy” on a trip upriver to take in the sights.

A sketch of Passage, from the hand of Victoria
With thanks to Joe Falvey

 “HMY Victoria & Albert” sourced from

One of those sons would return as King Edward VII in 1904.  Maybe the seasickness had put him off, but Edward arrived and departed from the city by train, perhaps a signal of things to come.  The Barrow bridge was being built at the time and in two years would be carrying a lot of the business that had departed Waterford harbour for well over 1000 years, to Rosslare in Wexford.

HMY Fairy which Edward first saw the city from in 1849
sourced from:

Of course these are just the great and the good who history saw fit to record.  How many viking, celt and ordinary citizen arrived and departed through our great harbour that were never recorded.  Indeed how many others of royal blood or not who came through and later went on to rule is also worth speculating on.

Todays piece was written with direct reference to Julian Walton’s On This Day. Vol 1.
For more details on these visits in Julian’s book see Henry II pp28/9, King John pp34/5, Richard II pp50/1, Queen Victoria pp 186/7 , Edward VII pp 216/17

Walton. J.  On this day.  Vol 1. 2013. self published