Athenry is a market town in County Galway with medieval town walls, castle and abbey. In Irish it's Baile Átha an Rí, town of the ford of the king. Those kings were the Ó Mainnín dynasty, ousted in the 12th C by supporters of the O'Connor kings, who in turn were ousted in the 13th C by the Anglo-Norman de Bermingham overlords. The present town still follows the Anglo-Norman street pattern, though the buildings are mostly modern. Athenry has a population (as of 2016) of 4445 and has become a commuter town for Galway 25 km west.
The Fields of Athenry is a folk ballad written in 1979 by Pete St John. It relates the sad tale of an Athenry man who "stole Trevelyan's corn" during the Great Famine of the 1840s to try to feed his family, and was sentenced to be transported to Australia. Trevelyan (1807-86) was the senior official in Dublin who was tardy in distributing famine relief, declaring that "the judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson". Let them eat maize instead, quoth he, a commodity exported in bulk from Ireland throughout the famine, but unaffordable by the peasantry. The song refers to "Botany Bay" but that was a generic term for all the penal colonies of Australia, and Fremantle would be our hero's likeliest destination. The song was original, in the style of but not adapted from earlier ballads, and in the 1980s it became an unofficial anthem of Irish sports supporters.
From Dublin Heuston there are ten trains M-Sat, six on Sunday. They stop at Kildare, Portarlington, Tullamore, Clara, Athlone, Ballinasloe and Attymon, taking just over two hours to Athenry, and continue west to Oranmore and Galway Ceannt (another 30 min).
From Limerick Colbert five trains run via Ennis and Gort to Athenry, two hours, and continue to Galway. It may be just as quick to take the train from Limerick towards Dublin and change at Portarlington for the Galway train.
1 Athenry railway station is just west of town centre. The ticket office is open M-F 05:30-13:30 and there are ticket machines and toilets.
Intercity buses fly past on M6 and don't serve the town. Philip Farrell Bus 418 trundles between Athenry and Galway every hour or two.
The town is compact but you need a bike or car to reach the outlying sights.
- 1 Athenry Castle (King John's Castle). Daily Apr-Sept 09:30-18:00, Oct 09:30-17:00. Sturdy tower house built from 1235, twenty years after the death of King John who it's named for. You enter via a wooden stairway into the first-floor main hall; below was just storage. So the interior was always cramped, and the point was to show an imposing exterior to the world. Adult €5.
- Medieval town walls survive in many places, with the castle on the north wall. Vehicles need a sharp intake of breath to get through North Gate.
- Athenry Arts & Heritage Centre, St Mary's, The Square H65 WC57. Small museum, child-friendly, within the remains of 13th C St Mary's Collegiate Church. Adult €5.
- The 15th C Market Cross still stands in the central square.
- 2 Dominican Priory (Priory Church of St Peter and St Paul), Abbey Row, H65 PC65. Founded in 1241, it was twice torched, and Cromwell's forces finished it off in the 1650s. What remains are the Late Gothic nave, chancel, northern aisle and transept, and medieval tombs. Free.
- Madden's Forge next to the Abbey is nowadays a community centre.
- 3 Castle Ellen House 5 km north of town is a mansion built in 1810. It has a small museum and is open Jun-Aug Th-Su 12:00-16:00.
- 4 Monivea Castle, Monivea Demesne. Anglo-Norman tower house extended in the 19th C, you can only see the exterior. Nearby is the cod-castellation of the ffrench family mausoleum and chapel, set in Monivea woods and parkland.
- 5 Knockmoy Abbey is a ruined Cistercian abbey founded in 1190 by King Cathal O'Connor, who is buried here. It's in the fields midway between Tuam and Athenry.
- 6 Loughrea is a village 15 km southeast of Athenry. St Brendan's Cathedral was built in 1897. The banks of the lough are a pleasant stroll.
- District Leisure Centre is 100 m west of the railway station.
- The shopping centre is south edge of town. Joyce's Supermarket is open M-Sa 08:00-23:00, Su 09:00-22:00.
- Old Barracks bistro is open Su-Th 08:30-18:00, F Sa to 21:00, see Sleep.
- La Rustica is a family-run Italian restaurant on North Gate St. It's open Su, Tu-Th 17:00-21:00, F Sa 16:00-22:00.
- Dan's Bar on North Gate St is open Su-Th 10:00-23:30, F Sa 10:00-00:30.
- Lodge at the Old Barracks, Cross Street H65 4170, ☏ . Sparkling clean welcoming place right in town centre. B&B double €100.
- 1 New Park Hotel, Cross Street, ☏ . Comfy mid-range hotel just south of centre. B&B double €80.
- 2 Raheen Woods Hotel, Raheen H65 E443, ☏ . Friendly place one km west of town. B&B double €90.
Athenry has good mobile and 4G connection with all carriers. As of June 2020, 5G has not reached this area.
- Tuam to the north is a long-established religious centre. From there head west to Cong, film location for The Quiet Man.
- The Burren is the stark limestone country to the southwest. It can be reached from Gort, though the best of it is further on in County Clare.
- Galway is the lively city west. Travel this way for Connemara and the Aran Islands.