Athlone

Athlone Castle

Athlone/Baile Átha Luain, meaning "The Town of the Ford of Luain". is a town in County Westmeath in Ireland's East Coast and Midlands. The town is located in the southwest corner of the county. It has a population of 20'000. The town is actually split in two by the river Shannon. One side of it is in County Roscommon and the other is in County Westmeath. The right bank of the river is the province of Leinster. The left bank of the river is in the province of Connacht. The Shannon is the biggest and longest river in Ireland.

Understand

Athlone is the nearest urban centre to the geographical centre of Ireland. It is no more than five hours drive from any point on the island. This being so makes Athlone a popular venue for conferences. Thankfully with hotels like the Prince of Wales, Hodson Bay, Sheraton and Radisson among others it is well equipped to play host. It is located 80 miles west of Dublin and 55 miles east of Galway. The M6 connecting Dublin with Galway skirts around the edge of the town via the bypass. The town is semicircular in shape with the river neatly dividing it in two halves. Athlone is 5.5 miles in width and 2.5 miles in depth. Unfortunately Athlone is not a planned town unlike nearby Longford, Birr or Ballinasloe. This is reflected in the higgeldy piggeldy layout of the original streets. What small semblance of planning there is, is centered on the streets adjacent to the Castle on the left bank. The old Dublin to Galway road travels through the length of the town from east to west. The other main roads feeding into the town come from Roscommon and Cavan. The Roscommon side of the town has much more new housing development than the Westmeath side. Indeed the Monksland area of Athlone, in County Roscommon is the largest urban area in that county. To the north of the town is Lough Ree. To the south, ten miles away is the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise located by the river Shannon. Athlone's strategic location may account for the presence of the large Custume Barracks. This is located on the West side of the Shannon. It is a large employer in the town. Athlone is predominately a blue collar town. Manufacturing giants Elan and Ericsson have plants in the town. An Post has a distribution centre and a section of the Department of Education is also here. There is a third level college, Athlone Institute of Technology, located a mile east of the town centre. Athlone Town Centre, a large mixed use development opened in November 2007. It comprises shops, apartments and a Sheraton hotel. It is located just off Church St. Beside the ATC is the Civic Centre for the town. It was built in 2003 and the new ATC blends in with it. To the left of the Civic Centre is the Prince of Wales Hotel, better known simply as the Prince. Beside the Prince is the old Church of Ireland. The aforementioned locations constitute the heart of the town centre. In terms of retail the east side of the river houses most places of interest. As much as Athlone has a main street it is Church St. It starts at the river and runs east to meet Dublingate Street. It used to be lined with well known national chain stores and was therefore very vibrant. Unfortunately the Golden Island Shopping centre, which opened in 1997, drew the chain stores away from Church Street. On the West side of the river there is a cluster of landmarks located adjacent to each other. The symbol of Athlone is the twin towered Church of St Peter's and Paul. Behind the church is the barracks. Opposite the church is Athlone Castle. Connaught St on the left bank of the river used to be a thriving commercial spot and the main street on that side of the river. Sadly, there is now widespread evidence of decay and dereliction. There is a lovely apartment scheme built two years ago which only serves to highlight air of neglect around it. The streets close to the left side of river Shannon have a bohemian feel to them. They house some of the best restaurants in the town. Sean's Bar near the Castle claims to be the oldest in Ireland. The river Shannon is the main reason for tourism in the town. The town gets its fair share of Europeans who take boats on the river either as day trips or accommodation. Due to a lack of proper water defences and probably lack of dredging the town is prone to flooding. In October 2009 parts of the left bank and along the right bank at the strand were badly affected by flooding. The world famous tenor Count John McCorma ck was born in Athlone. His birthplace is currently occupied by a Chinese takeaway. You have to make due with a statue opposite the barracks.

The newly renovated Athlone Castle contains the tourist office now. The Library is located in the Civic Centre. Bistop is the nearest internet cafe to the Civic Centre. There is no general hospital in Athlone. Portiuncla hospital in Ballinasloe is 16 miles away. There is a general practice located behind the Civic Centre and adjacent to the ATC. There may be left luggage facilities at the train station. There is a laundromat on John Broderick Street called Shannon Dry Cleaners opposite Dunnes Stores. There is the full spectrum of Supermarkets including Tesco, Dunnes, Lidl, Aldi, Centra, Spar etc. throughout the town. For those who need their fix of fast food there is a Burger King at the Golden Island Shopping Centre and a Subway at the bridge. McDonalds is on the edge of town at the Kilmartin Retail Park. Between the river and Dunnes you will find the Allied Irish Bank, Ulster Bank and the Bank of Ireland. All three have on street ATM machines. There are two Post Office's. One is between the Civic Centre and the ATC. The other is on Pearse Street across the river. Should you need a barber there is Dec's on Lloyd's lane just off Church Street and five minutes from the Civic Offices. There are ladies hairdressers all over town. Should you need fuel for your car there is Green Apple in Arcadia, and Topaz on the Dublin road. In terms of car parking there is parking at the Fair Green along Garden Vale, you have the two shopping centres and also at the Strand at the end of LLoyd's lane.

Get in

By plane

Athlone is about 90 minutes' drive from either Dublin, Shannon or Knock Airport. Both Citylink and Bus Éireann operate buses from Dublin Airport to Athlone on their Galway routes. The Citylink bus stops at Athlone Institute of Technology and Arcadia, which is a bus shelter about a 15-minute walk north from the Civic Centre.

By train

Athlone is on the Dublin to Galway/Westport line. The train station is located ten minutes north of Church St.

By car

The M6 motorway connects Athlone with both Dublin (90 minutes) and Galway (60 minutes).

By bus

Athlone is serviced hourly by Bus Eireann from either Galway or Dublin during daylight hours. The bus station is beside the train station. I think there is a daily bus to Waterford, Sligo, Cork and Limerick. Within the town there is a local Bus Eireann service serving Monksland on the west side of the town.

Citylink multistop service from Galway to Dublin stops in Athlone, at the Institute of Technology, at Golden Island (town centre) and Arcadia.

See

In 1690 the town was besieged by 10,000 Williamite troops under the command of General James Douglas. The Jacobite force present in the town, under the command of the Governor of Athlone, Colonel Richard Grace, resolutely refused to surrender. Following a week long siege the Williamites retreated.
Athlone enjoyed a year of relative peace until June of 1691 when the town was again besieged by the Williamites. This time it was the full Williamite Army of almost 25,000 men led by the Dutch General, Godard de Ginkel which laid siege to the town. The Williamites quickly captured the Leinster town but the jacobites broke down the bridge to stem their advance. Under the command of the French genera, the Marquis de St. Ruth, they courageously resisted all attempts to repair it. A brave Sergeant of Dragoons, Custume by name, lost his life in his attempts to dislodge the vigorous repair works and by so doing became a folk hero celebrated in poetry and story. Ginkels guns, in one of the heaviest bombardments in Irish history, fired 12,000 cannonballs into the tiny Connacht town badly damaging Athlone Castle and reducing other buildings to rubble. The Williamites discovered a fording point and in a surprise attack crossed the river and captured the Castle.

Architecture

The following are worth a look for those interested in architecture

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, February 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.