by Ben and Muriel
10.04.2013 - 10.04.2013 10 °C
We are a half hour drive from the town of Waterford and the crystal factory of the same name. This manufacturer of luxury items likes to trace its history back to 1783 when the first crystal production began in Waterford. This first era of production lasted until 1851. It wasn't until a century later that a few Czechs established a factory in 1947 starting a new era of production that would capitalize on the Waterford name of old.
I had said in my blog post yesterday that we had not seen much evidence of the collapse of the Celtic tiger, the name give to the booming economy. Today gave us some of our first insights into the economic woes of Ireland. When the world economy tanks the canary in the coal mine is the slowdown in the purchase of luxury goods. In 2009, Waterford Crystal in Ireland went into receivership. It was a very difficult and very public demise of an icon. There were factory sit-ins and a series of takeovers. A factory that may have employed over a 1000 people was eventually closed and a new production location eventually opened in the heart of Waterford which now employs a mere 65 craftsman who produce 60,000 crystal pieces by hand each year. The rest of the Waterford crystal production takes place in factories in Germany, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
We were surprised to see how the production of this crystal is such a hands-on affair. The items are hand blown and then shaped with the assistance of a cast iron or wood molds. All the cutting, engraving and etching are done by hand. There are a few highly complex items that are now done by computer but such items represent less than 2 percent of their overall production. It takes eight years to become a master crystal maker and ten years to be a master engraver or crystal sculptor. With the collapse of the company, Waterford Crystal now only has master craftsman and no apprentices. They have only one mold maker. It would seem that the future of this company is far from certain if it can't find the where-with-all to take on apprentices in the very near future.
I can't say anyone in our family has anything approaching a crystal fetish, let alone a strong affinity for things crystal, but seeing the amount of labour required for each piece and the associated skills involved has given us a much greater appreciation of these items. It was fascinating to see firsthand the awards and trophies that this facility crafts for posh world events such as golf and tennis championships, horse races, royal celebrations and even television awards (People's Choice Award). Knowing that many of the items that are produced are routinely priced in the thousands of dollars would seem to indicate that these commissioned single production pieces must cost a great deal more.
After our factory tour and browse of the crystal shop (no we didn't buy anything, but the Cinderella Coach complete with horses for a mere 30,000 Euros seemed like a bargain) we went out for lunch. During a tasty meal of bagel sandwiches, we browsed one of Ireland's newspapers. It was both grim and informative reading. The front story was all about a young dentist who died of complications associated with a pregnancy gone wrong and how it may have been prevented if the doctor involved had not hesitated in a decision to abort the fetus which was already known to be unviable. The strict anti-abortion laws are cited as possible reasons for the doctor's slowness to intervene. Troubles and murders in Northern Ireland associated with political aspirations got ample coverage but even this news took a back seat to homegrown violent crime. We read that Limerick has become known as "stab city" and has until recently been known as the murder capital of Western Europe. The problems with the Irish economy filled page after page. Ireland has secured nearly 40 billion Euros in loans and some of these are coming due as early as 2015. That a country of 4 million people can deal with such financial woes is a real wonder. However, history states that the Irish are a longsuffering and resilient people and the current state of things is nothing compared to what they have endured and overcome in the past.
With the economy as it is, we have found food and clothing prices here to be quite reasonable so far. We have found the price of beef a much welcome relief from Turkish prices and perhaps even less than back in Canada. We see that bookies and gambling halls are alive and well here (they were also a common sight in England and Wales).
This evening we enjoyed some more cooking inspired by Ireland. A few words about Irish cookery, by Muriel:
With our host having leant us a couple of Irish cookbooks, we eagerly read through a few chapters to determine what traditional foods we wanted to make. Hannah decided upon the stew for yesterday’s meal while I selected colcannon. The cookbook went into some detail about the debate on Irish stew that is raging out there (who knew?): “To add a carrot or not?, that is the great Irish stew controversy. Purists denounce any carrot that makes it into the stew as a no-good-hanger-on, useless for taste and texture, and there only for personal gain, to bask in the glory of being associated with Ireland’s most famous national dish. Other nefarious characters who vie for a role in the stew include beef, celery, turnips and pearl barley, although these too are rejected out of hand as non-traditional ingredients.” Hannah, being a purist (read ‘black-and-white’ teenager) used only the ingredients called for: lamb, lamb stock, onions, potatoes, salt, pepper and thyme. It turned out just wonderful, of course, and we’ll be adding it to our list of new dishes. The colcannon was made from boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, boiled milk (are you getting a picture here?), salt, pepper and Irish butter. The unique step for me was to “boil the potatoes with their jackets on,” and peel them before mashing. Apparently, most potatoes on the farms were boiled this way, with the women bringing the platter of potatoes to the table. Each person then peeled their own – I craftily saw through this technique, knowing they did that so they could avoid the tedious task of peeling mounds of spuds each and every day of their lives.