Digest>Archives> June 2006

Origin of a Crystal Lighthouse

By Richard Clayton


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The Hook Head Lighthouse in Ireland.
Photo by: Kathleen Finnegan

“The Irish are wonderful people who are noted for their warmth, kindness and goodwill,” said the travel agent. “Fall and spring are great times to visit, but Ireland is beautiful any time of year and the weather is never so extreme as to rule out any time over another.”

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Nicky Coady, master glass cutter and resident ...

So, three young sisters from the suburbs of Los Angeles accompanied their elderly aunt on her ancestral pilgrimage to Southern Ireland in October. High on their list of places to visit were the Viking towns of Wexford and Waterford, often referred to as “The Secret Ireland,” its uniqueness due to some early visitors from across the seas — the Celts, Vikings and Normans who came, conquered and stayed.

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The crystal table and four chairs sitting on an ...

After arriving in Ireland and spending a couple of days in Dublin, the ladies rented a car and proceeded to drive south toward Waterford. It was a bit of a challenge driving on the left side of the road and encountering the many traffic circles along the way, but it was a fun ride. Also, they were looking forward to the trip into the realm of glassmaking at the Waterford Crystal Factory.

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The original crystal lighthouse that Nicky Coady ...

On the tour of the factory, these Americans learned that in 1783, George and William Penrose founded a crystal manufacturing business in the port of Waterford where the brothers employed 50

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After touring the Waterford Factory, guests are ...
Photo by: Richard Clayton

to 70 people, led by a fellow Quaker, John Hill from England.

The company succeeded in producing crystal with a purity of color unmatched in all of Europe. However, in less than 100 years later, the initial company failed due to lack of capital and excessive taxation. Another century passed before the enterprise was revived. In 1947, a small factory was set up near the site of the original one and in 2007, Waterford Crystal celebrates its 60th anniversary shipping exquisite products all over the world.

On the factory tour, the ladies witnessed how the cutters work generations of design experience into pieces as individual as the people who make them. They found it to be a real working environment, as they got very close to the process and could see the work almost through the eyes of the artisans. After the factory tour, the group was escorted into the beautiful showroom at the visitor center.

Waterford Crystal gives its master cutters, some 300-400 of the best crystal craftspeople, a chance for a little showmanship as they display the talents they have developed over an eight-year apprenticeship. This gives the master cutters a feel for the people and a sense that their craft is appreciated. In a display of the most recently

created collectibles, they spotted a magnificent Waterford Crystal Lighthouse and decided to buy it on-the-spot.

They asked if it was possible if the artist could sign their piece of artwork, and were directed to the desk of Nicky Coady, the Master Craftsman and Cutter who would do it for them. Much to their delight, the three sisters learned that Nicky Coady had designed the crystal treasure himself and they found him to be very passionate about his work.

“At the entrance to the Port of Waterford stands the Hook Head Lighthouse that is said to be the oldest light in Northern Europe,” Nicky said. “I brought my son, Thomas, to view the lighthouse in 1988 at the age of five, which led me to rent a summerhouse for two weeks next to the lighthouse, so he could watch it work at night. At that time, it was not open to the public, but some months later, I met the Commissioner for Irish Lights who arranged for my family and me to take a private tour of the Hook Lighthouse, which led to my inspirations.” Nicky told them this story as he was doing the engravings.

He then shared a picture of the original crystal lighthouse that he sculpted, as a gift to his son who is now a carpenter. When the Waterford Company viewed that piece of art, they commissioned him to do a smaller version of it that is now available to the public. He showed the ladies another picture of a crystal table and four chairs sitting on an octagon piece that he designed and created for his daughter, Jenny. When asked how much they would sell for, Nicky said, “Well, as originals, they are priceless.”

As they were leaving, he told them that he is now working on a piece to celebrate his 40th year with Waterford Crystal. “It is going to be a centerpiece bowl with the theme of “By Hook or By Crook,” he said. When asked how it got its name, he explained, “When the Norman Earl of Pembroke- known as 'Strongbow' sailed into Waterford in 1170 to take the City, he saw a tower on one side of the harbor and a church on the other side. He asked their names and was told they were the 'Tower of Hook' and the 'Church of Crooke'. Hence the saying, he would take Waterford 'By Hook or by Crooke.'”

They remarked to each other on the way back to their lodging what a privilege it had been to meet a master cutter who appreciated the customers' praise and who recognized the passion of his art. That night, the three sisters gazed out the window of their hotel room at the overcast sky and the cold, wind-whipped waves coming ashore at the foot of the Hook Head Lighthouse.

There are 86 lighthouses on or off the coast of Ireland, many barely accessible. The Light on Hook Head peninsula in County Wexford is the oldest in Ireland and among the oldest in the world. With the exception of the lantern, it remains today largely as it was eight centuries ago.

William Marshall, Earl of Pembrokeshire, in the early thirteenth century undertook the building of the lighthouse as a navigational aid to guide his ships into Waterford Harbor. The medieval tower had a wood burning fire on its roof that was maintained by monks. It has served sailors and shipping for 800 years.

Because of its unique historical and architectural significance, the Irish Lights Commissioners took the unusual step of investigating the possibility of developing a partnership arrangement with the local community, with the aim of opening the tower to the general public. A new Heritage Committee of the Board was formed in 1993. The Tower of Hook became fully automated in 1996 and no longer needed resident keepers.

The Hook Lighthouse Visitor Centre was officially opened by the President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary McAleese, on April 25, 2001. It was a beautiful spring day and many of those living on the Hook Peninsula turned out to mark the occasion. Twenty-nine thousand visitors had come to the tower by the time the first season ended. The Centre is staffed by local people under the management of Derville Killian, who has been with the project from its infancy and whose hard work has helped make the Hook Lighthouse Visitor Centre the success it is today.

“The panoramic setting and the magic of the view from the top of the Tower is an experience not to be missed,” said Michael O'Neill, who was the brains behind the opening of the lighthouse.

The three Hughes sisters reluctantly left Ireland for the return trip to the States, bringing with them the Waterford Crystal Lighthouse that had been personally engraved by the artist who designed and created it. Sheridan, a flight attendant for Continental Airlines; Linda, a firefighter captain with the Los Angeles Fire Department; and Laurie, a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, wrapped their prized Waterford Crystal in decorative paper and gave it as a Christmas gift to their mother, Joyce Hughes-Clayton, and their stepfather, both of whom are lighthouse aficionados.

Note: This fabulous full-lead crystal lighthouse comes from Waterford, the home of the finest crystal in the world. Two hundred years of perfection are clearly visible in the sparkling symbol of strength and guidance. Artfully capturing Ireland's Hook Head Lighthouse guarding Waterford Harbor, this handcrafted solid block of crystal weighs over 2 lbs. An exceptional gift for any lighthouse or Waterford collector.

This story appeared in the June 2006 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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