Friday 30th January 2009 is a date forever etched in my mind. At approximately 5.30pm I received several phone calls from former Waterford Crystal workers – the Kilbarry plant was to close and the workers had commenced a sit-in protest. Hundreds of workers subsequently lost their jobs and their pensions. The brand was sold and all seemed lost. It was inconceivable that a brand built on the back of the hard work, skill and ingenuity of generations of Waterford workers was to leave the city and the country.
As a result of a genuine partnership of local civic leaders, council members, union leaders and business representatives a plan was hatched to salvage something from the wreckage. The plan was to bring crystal manufacturing into the heart of the city centre through the formation of a new company producing high-end crystal products. The plan was ambitious and risky and involved a considerable investment from Waterford City Council, Fáilte Ireland and others. Some doubted it would happen at all.
On Tuesday 22nd June 2010 a vision became a reality. A fabulous new facility was opened in the heart of the city centre. The new House of Waterford Crystal boasts a state of the art showroom showcasing some of the most prestigious and treasured crystal in the world. It will attract tens of thousands of visitors in the years ahead and in turn will boost the local tourist industry and economy. It will be dovetailed nicely by the continued development of the Viking triangle with three different and unique museums charting a thousand years of history all within a stones throw of each other.
For many Waterford people Friday 30th January 2009 was like a death in the family. Conversely Tuesday 22nd June 2010 was like the birth of a new child. Yesterday as I stood on the Plaza outside the fabulous new House of Waterford Crystal I thought of what had gone before and the thousands of people who previously worked in ‘the Glass’. I recalled Jim Nolan’s award winning radio documentary which charted the history of the Kilbarry plant, warts and all. I hope those left fighting for their pensions succeed in their efforts. I also sensed a new determination, a focus and a unity I had not previously witnessed. This new venture has brought out the best in Waterford and its people. Those of us fortunate enough to be present toasted a new future in sparkling Waterford Crystal glasses that were half full and not half empty.