Athlone is the largest town on the Shannon and is located in the centre of Ireland. The town has an old and rich military history and evidence of this can be easily seen when wandering through its narrow medieval streets. Also apparent is the abundance of shops, theatres and restaurants as well as a plentiful supply of attractions and activities to enjoy. Athlone is one of the towns that many Shannon cruisers use as a base to explore from and it has a large marina to facilitate this.
Athlone Castle dominates the waterfront as you enter the town. It was constructed from an earlier Anglo-Norman structure in 1210 by Justicar John Gray for King John of England. The castle has been upgraded during its violent history over the past eight hundred years to become the imposing fortress that it is today. The newly renovated castle has recently reopened to the public and a visit is highly recommended.
Athlone had long been known as a British garrison town, and up until the 20th century it had gained the reputation of being a fortress. Major battles have occurred here in almost every war and invasion that has happened in Ireland and thus the town’s defences have been constantly developing during the past several hundred years. Now it is Irish troops who occupy the town’s barracks, which is located on the opposite side of the river to the marina. You may see some camouflage green Jeeps driving by as you wander up the main streets. Athlone is a walled town and its first walls were built in 1251. Northgate Street and Dublingate Street show where the entry points may have been and evidence of the walls can be seen in these locations.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Athlone is home to Europe’s oldest bar. Sean’s bar is located near Athlone Castle and dates back to 900AD. During renovations in 1970 the walls of the structure were found to be made of wattle and wicker and some thousand-year-old coins were also found. The coins are on display within the bar and apparently the stout is good here too!
Today, Athlone contains a number of colleges and budding young minds come from all over Ireland to study here. Some of the world’s most innovative companies are based in the local industrial areas and as a direct consequence the population is constantly increasing. The town is now one of Ireland’s proudest success stories.
Athlone is the commercial capital of the midlands, and shopping is a favourite activity of visiting tourists. The town also has a bustling nightlife with a healthy range of restaurants, pubs and clubs. There is a lovely little coffee and crafts café on the eastern side of the river; here you will find some delicious homemade German cakes for those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth. The local theatres host a variety of performances during the summer and information on these shows can be obtained from the local tourist office which is located in the town square next to the shopping centre. Attractions within the town’s environs include Glendeer Pet Farm, Mike’s Viking Tours, children’s leisure worlds and a water sports centre. There are also a number of health and spa facilities in the local hotels if you’re in the mood to treat yourself!