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Tuesday 28 February 2017

Sad end for Waterford Crystal

Rush for souvenirs as doors close for good

Conor Kane

Some of the last customers at the Waterford Crystal visitors'
centre - Eleanor Phelan, Ann Lanagan, Miriam Lyons and Maria
Tyrell – before it closed last night
Some of the last customers at the Waterford Crystal visitors' centre - Eleanor Phelan, Ann Lanagan, Miriam Lyons and Maria Tyrell – before it closed last night

IT was a painful end for Waterford Crystal.

The thousands who worked there over the years, the hundreds of thousands who visited to admire its jewels and the millions who associate the brand with this country never thought they would see the day.

Waterford Crystal was, after all, the fourth most popular visitor attraction in the country -- bringing 315,000 people to the south-east every year.

But last night the slow but inexorable decline of the world-famous attraction was complete when the factory's visitor centre and gallery closed to the public for the last time.

Since January 5, when Waterford Wedgwood went into receivership, the nail in the business's coffin was inevitable, despite a brave but doomed campaign mounted by workers who wanted the factory to stay open.

The takeover of the brand a few months later by a consortium of American venture capitalists, WWRD, did not set local pulses racing with romantic thoughts of a rejuvenation of the Kilbarry plant, and production was soon halted.

The US-backed firm will make the crystal in locations across the globe, including Eastern Europe.

Now a "for sale or to let" sign is posted on the roadway outside Waterford Crystal, with few anticipating an imminent deal for the sprawling site and its legacy of obsolete buildings.

In the coming fortnight, the remaining workers will spend their time packing up what is left of the display crystal and that will be that.

Hope

But every cloud has a silver lining, and Waterford residents hope the city's link with crystal manufacture and sale will continue. A new city council-sponsored production plant and gallery is to open in the centre of Waterford city early this summer.

However, the new showroom, which will employ between 50 and 100 people, will be a far cry from the heady days when Waterford Crystal employed up to 4,000 people.

The message went out on local radio yesterday morning -- the centre with its fabulous displays of one-off crystal creations was to shut down for good.

People poured into the long-popular tourist magnet.

Large-scale production of crystal ended some time ago, with just a skeleton staff manning the centre in recent weeks.

For Miriam Lyons, a final visit was important as she picked up a piece of crystal by which she can remember her late brother Eugene, who worked in the factory for many years.

"It's the end of an era and it's very sad. I'd have come down here a lot over the years for presents, particularly wedding presents, and friends of mine up the country would be asking me to get some Waterford Crystal," she said.

Maria Tyrell said it was "an absolute disgrace" that the situation at the business should come to this.

"The saddest thing of all was, inside the showrooms, there was a man up there on scaffolding, taking a chandelier apart. They (the workers) must have felt very sad watching that."

As a security guard at the front door told late visitors that the place was closed, the PA inside the building did the job for those indoors.

"Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please: the visitors centre is now closing."

Irish Independent

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