The wine vault was built in about 1440 by Peter Rice, a wealthy wine merchant and mayor of Waterford. His son James, also a wine merchant, served as mayor of the city an astonishing eleven times.
James Rice gave this wine vault and the house above it to Dean John Collyn on the 6th July 1468 and it was used to house the priests of the new chantry chapel built by Collyn until 1520.
Wine was a popular drink for the men, women and children of the city. People did not drink water as the city wells were often contaminated!
In the Middle Ages so much wine was imported through the port of Waterford that it was known as the ‘wine capital of Ireland’.
In the 13th century Waterford was the wine-importing capital of Ireland. The record of the tax on wine imports known as the prize of wine shows that more wine was imported through Waterford than through any other port in Ireland. This trade linked Waterford with some of the most sophisticated cities in Europe namely Bristol, Bordeaux and Bruges.
Throughout the 13th century Waterford had a huge trade with Bordeaux in south-western France. Bordeaux was the chief port of a huge wine-producing area and had been controlled by the kings of England since 1152 when Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Merchants from Bordeaux and from Gascony also settled in Waterford and one Eymar de Godar, a merchant of Gascony, served as mayor four times between 1304 and 1313 and was still involved in the government of the city until 1336.
By the 15th century Waterford wine merchants such as Peter Rice and his son James began to source wine in Spain and Portugal because the region around Bordeaux was not accessible during the long conflict with France known as the Hundred Years' War. James Rice actually travelled to Spain twice in order to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of St James the Apostle at Santiago de Compostela. Prior to his second journry to Spain he had a gruesome cadaver tomb built for himself in Christ Church Cathedral and this tomb survives in the cathedral to this day.