In the 8th century Vikings settled at Port Láirge, which they renamed Vadrafjord and turned into a booming trading post. To consolidate their presence there, they adopted a ferocity that made Waterford the most powerful and feared settlement in the country. Local tribes paid a tribute known as Airgead Sróine (nose money) : defaulters had their noses cut off!
Acknowledging Waterford’s strategic importance, the newly arrived Anglo-Normans attacked the town, defeating a combined Irish-Viking army and hurling 70 prominent citizens to their deaths off Baginbun Head. Strongbow finished the takeover in 1170 with 200 soldiers and 1000 archers, and married local chief Dermot MacMurrough’s daughter.
In 1210 King John extended the original Viking city walls and Waterford became Ireland’s most powerful city. In the 15th century it resisted the forces of two pretenders to the English Crown, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, thus earning the motto Urbs intacta manet Waterfordia (Waterford city remains unconquered).
The luck didn’t last: the city defied Cromwell in 1649, but in 1650 his forces returned and Waterford surrendered. The town escaped the customary slaughter but its Catholics were either exiled to the west or shipped as slaves to the Caribbean, and the population declined.