The Heart of Ireland

The town of Athlone lies on the banks of the River Shannon in the heart of Ireland. It is dominated by Athlone Castle.

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The town of ATHLONE

Athlone (in Irish Ath Luan) means 'the ford of Luan', possibly an innkeeper who operated a ferry and perhaps acted as a guide at the ford for those wishing to cross the Shannon.)

Scroll down to the video at the end of this section to see what Athlone and the Midlands has to offer.
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A brief history of Athlone Castle
by Gearoid O'Brien, Librarian,
Aidan Heavey Library, Athlone:

The first signs of settlement at Athlone grew up in Anglo-Norman times around the Castle which was built for King John of England by his Irish justicar Bishop John De Gray of Norwich. Though not the first castle to be built in Athlone this castle has endured like no other. Looking at it today it still incorporates elements of the castle of 1210 together with various additions and alterations which were made in response to advances in warfare. It has many of the characteristics of a Napoleonic fortification as it was remodelled during that period to defend the crossing point of the Shannon.

Over the centuries it has become the nucleus of the Anglo-Norman settlement, a stronghold of the rival families the Dillons and he O'Kellys; the seat of the Court of Claims; the residence of the President of Connacht and the Jacobite stronghold during the sieges of Athlone. Later it became incorporated into the new military barrack complex. It remained a stronghold of the garrison for almost three hundred years.

In 1922 when the Free State troops took over the Barracks from their British counterparts they proudly flew the tricolour from a temporary flagpole much to the delight of the majority of townspeople.

In 1991 to mark the Tercentenary of the Siege of Athlone the castle became the foremost visitor attraction in the town. Athlone Town Council made a major investment in the castle creating a multi-faceted Visitor Centre.

In 2010 the Castle celebrated its 800th anniversary. TRhe facilities were recently re-developed to bring the standards oif interpretation and display in line with the visitor expectations of the 21st century. The Keep of the Castle is now used to tell the dramatic story of the famous siege of Athlone while the other buildings house a modern interpretative centre focussing on Athlone, the Castle and the periods before and after the Siege. (Check


The Luan Art Gallery is a purpose built modern facility incorporating the old building, sympathetically restored, with a modern glass section over a boardwalk area. It will cater primarily for the visual arts, with an emphasis on meeting local audience needs in terms of art exhibitions an d engagement. It will also target national and international projects.

The old building was better known to generations as the Public Library. However, in the early days of the 20th century it was used as a public hall. Some famous people who performed here included Count John McCormack, a native of Athlone and Mr Percy French, who was born in County Roscommon. (Check


Clonmacnois (the Irish Cluain Mhíc Nóis means the meadow of the sons of Nós) was founded about 548 by St Ciarán , the son of a wright or master craftsman. Situated on an esker ridge overlooking a large area of bog through which the river Shannon flows, its location in earlier times was literally at the cross-roads of Ireland where the north/south artery of communication, the Shannon, crossed the major east/west routeway along the gravel ridges of the glacial eskers. This pivotal position contributed to the development of Clonmacnois as a major centre of religion, learning, trade, craftsmanship and political influence. In its heyday Clonmacnois boasted a population of over 2,000 people. Its more famous alumni included Alcuin of York and John Scotus Eruigena who in the early 9th century were regarded in Europe as the thinkers of their age and were invited by Charlemange to teach in his Imperial Court.

The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th - 13th century), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe. The original high crosses and a selection of graveslabs are on display in the Visitor Centre.

The long and varied history of Clonmacnois is recounted in an audiovisual presentation shown in the visitor centre. There are also exhibitions that deal with the flora, fauna and unique landscape of the region.