Set against wood panelled walls and elegant furnishings, Waterford Crystal Chandeliers form the glittering centrepiece of Ashford Castle’s historic George V Dining Room. As guests enjoy spectacular cooking from chef Philippe Farineau, they sit beneath cut crystal chandeliers that have been handmade by internationally renowned Irish glassmakers, Waterford. Here, we explore the history and craftsmanship behind this prestigious Irish brand.
One of the most famous and intricate Irish crafts, Irish glassmaking dates back to the mid 13th century and the best known Irish glassmakers is, without doubt, Waterford Crystal. Founded in 1783, the glassmaking company was named after the Irish harbour town where it was located. Waterford was set up by two brothers, George and William Penrose, who had the aim of creating the finest quality crystal drinkware and decorative objects. Soon enough, the Waterford glassmaking factory gained a reputation for its exquisite glassware, particularly in regard to its purity and clarity of colour. Despite its success, the factory was forced to close in 1853 and Waterford’s production ceased for nearly 100 years, until in 1947, two Czech glassmakers relaunched the storied company. Kael Bacik and Miroslav Havel were struck by the traditional Waterford cutting patterns they had seen in the National Museum of Ireland, and it was this style that became a cornerstone for the new Waterford brand. It was around this time that, inspired by the Penrose brothers’ designs from the 18th and 19th century, Havel created the best-selling Lismore pattern, which continues to be the brand’s most popular style. This resulted in renewed success, which is ongoing today thanks not only to Waterford’s extensive product range but also its commitment to preserving the quality, purity and clarity of colour than was so integral to the company over 250 years ago.
With hand craftsmanship, artistic excellence and impeccable skill at its core, the training that each Waterford craftsman receives covers every aspect of glassmaking, from the initial design to moulding (mould making is an ancient practice and Waterford is one of the few companies that upholds this process) and blowing, which is only performed by a highly experienced Master Blower. The production of each item is a laborious and painstaking process, which sees every piece inspected in accordance with the company’s meticulous quality standards before it can be cut and polished. Waterford’s glass cutters must undergo a minimum of eight years of training before they are qualified, to ensure that every piece of Waterford Crystal is a sparkling testament to the company’s illustrious heritage.
Today, the impressive variety of products extends from drinkware, which is divided into stemware and barware, as well as fine china and flatware, vases, centrepieces, chandeliers and lighting. Furthermore, the brand often collaborates with some of the design industry’s most respected names, including the likes of Jasper Conran, Monique Lhullier and Jeff Leatham, to produce limited edition, show stopping pieces that combine traditional artisanship with a modern aesthetic.
The Waterford Crystal Design Studio remains in Waterford and is the starting point for some of the company’s most high profile and challenging designs, such as the PGA Tour of America trophy and the People’s Choice Award.
Admire the beauty of Waterford’s hand cut crystal chandeliers for yourself when you visit the George V Dining Room at Ashford Castle.