Athlone (Irish: Baile Átha Luain, "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.
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 80 miles (130 km) west of Dublin and 55 miles (90 km) 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. 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 (16 km) away is the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise 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. 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 next 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. 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 occupied by a Chinese takeaway. You have to make due with a statue opposite the barracks.
The renovated Athlone Castle contains the tourist office now. The library is 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 (26 km) 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, and Spar, 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. McDonald's 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.
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.
Trains from Dublin Heuston take about 1 hr 20 min to Athlone, via Portarlington, Tullamore and Clara. From Athlone they either continue west via Athenry to Galway, or northwest to Roscommon, Castlebar and Westport.
Athlone railway station is 10 minutes north of Church St.
The M6 motorway connects Athlone with Dublin (90 minutes) and Galway (60 minutes).
Athlone is serviced hourly by Bus Eireann from either Galway or Dublin during daylight hours. The bus station is beside the train station. There is a 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.
The centre of Athlone is small enough to get around on foot. There are taxi ranks at the train station and on Church St.
Bus Éireann and Flagline operate a frequent town bus service in Athlone, consisting of three routes:
- Bus Éireann routes A1 and A2 provide a cross-town service from Monksland in the west to Creggan Court in the east, serving the Bus/Rail Station, Town Centre, Golden Island Shopping Centre and Athlone Institute of Technology. Buses run every 15 minutes Monday to Saturday and every 30 minutes on Sundays and public holidays. Both routes follow the same alignment, except:
- Flagline route Ath1 provides a frequent service in the southeast of the town, between Golden Island Shopping Centre (just south of the town centre) and Athlone Institute of Technology. Buses run every 15 minutes from 08:22 to 18:22, Monday to Saturday, with no service on Sundays.
On routes A1 and A2, the cash fare is €2 adult and €1.20 child. If paying with a TFI Leap Card, the fare is €1.40 adult and 84c child. Route Ath1 has a €1 single cash fare.
Local and regional services
Local and regional bus services from Athlone include:
- Bus Éireann Expressway 20 and X20 provide an express service east to Dublin, and west to Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Galway, every hour Monday to Sunday. Every third bus (route 20) also serves Moate, Kilbeggan and Kinnegad.
- Bus Éireann 70 [dead link] operates east to Mullingar, 3 times per day Monday to Saturday.
- Bus Éireann 72 [dead link] operates south to Birr, Nenagh and Limerick, 3 times per day Monday to Saturday and twice per day on Sundays.
- Bus Éireann 73 [dead link] operates southeast to Tullamore, Portlaoise, Carlow, Kilkenny and Waterford, twice per day Monday to Saturday and once per day on Sundays.
- Bus Éireann 440 [dead link] operates northwest to Roscommon, Ballyhaunis, Ireland West Airport Knock, Castlebar and Westport, 4 times per day Monday to Saturday and 3 times per day on Sundays.
- Bus Éireann 466 [dead link] operates northeast to Ballymahon and Longford, 3 times per day Monday to Saturday and twice per day on Sundays.
Route maps, including stop locations, are available by entering the route number into the TFI route mapper.
- 1 Athlone Castle, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Great for history-lovers. It was built for England's King John in 1210, it was twice besieged in the 17th century (The Siege of Athlone) before finally being captured by the Williamites. The closing decades of the seventeenth century were among the most turbulent in this country's history. It is not surprising then to realise that the most dramatic events in the history of Athlone occurred during the Williamite and Jacobite Wars.
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. €8.
- 2 Church of St Peter & Paul, Barrack St (opposite Athlone Castle). This twin towered church, built in the 1930s to replace an older but smaller church which stood on the same site was cleaned up and looks very well. It is the nationally recognised symbol of Athlone.
- Bronze bust of Count John McCormack. An Athlone native and renowned singer, is on the promenade in Athlone. Count John McCormack was born in Athlone on June 14, 1884. His father, Andrew McCormack had been lured to Ahlone, from Galasheils in the Scottish lowlands by the prospect of employment in Athlone Woollen Mills. In time Andrew was to become a foreman in these Mills which had a world-wide reputation for the quality of the tweeds they produced. In 1903 John won the coveted gold medal in the tenor class of the Dublin Feis Ceoil. It was this victory which was to lead to a phenomenal singing career. In 1907 John made his operatic debut in Covent Gardens in Cavaleria Rusticana. He was made Count of the Papal Court in 1928 by Pope Pius XI. Having conquered the operatic world John turned his attention to the concert stage where he was soon to become the most popular lyric tenor of his day. Apart from his rendition of popular Irish songs John McCormack was renowned for his masterful singing of German lieder He made successful concert tours of America, Australia and Europe but in Ireland the highlight of his career was his singing of Panis Angelicus at the open air mass for the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin's Phoenix Park in 1932. John's colourful career spanned almost forty years and included a brief but lucrative career in Hollywood. His earnings for the film Song O'My Heart in 1930 was estimated to be in the region of $500,000 John McCormack died in Dublin on September 16, 1945 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. The bronze bust of McCormack on the promenade in Athlone, the work of the Cork sculptor Seamus Murphy, was unveiled in 1970.
The following are worth a look for those interested in architecture
- Church of St Peter & Paul. Opposite Athlone Castle. A monumental Catholic church with twin towers built in the 1930s replacing an older but smaller church which stood on the same site. It is the nationally recognised symbol of Athlone.
- Church of Ireland. On Church St. A typical Protestant church with the unusual accompaniment of a separate tower.
- Dillon Shoes. On the corner of Church St and Northgate St. It has a lovely decorative red brick front. Particularly over the doorway.
- Methodist Church. on Northgate Street. A quaint stone structure with twin mini spires.
- Gainsborough House. Opposite the Methodist Church. It has a neat inset window on the second floor.
- Allied Irish Bank. This branch at the bridge is typical of such buildings around the country save for the nice pedestrian bridge leading into it.
- Workhouses. On Northgate St. These were again typical of such buildings put up in Irish towns. A fine broad stone structure in good condition at least from the outside.
- Court Devenish House. Off Northgate St/Church St. The grounds are private but the roadside allows a clear view of this fine Jacobean House from the 17th century. There is also the ruins of an abbey on the grounds again visible from the roadside.
- St Mary's Church. In St Mary's Square, just beyond Church Street, is a fine RC parish church and the best of its kind on the east side of the town.
- Franciscan Friary. On Friary Lane, off Church St, is a nice replica of the older style stone churches built throughout the country with the tower at the side of the church.
- The Athlone West Train Station. It's just beyond the barracks. This is a fine long (17 windows wide) classical stone structure which no longer operates as a train station. The current train station is on the other side of the river. When in use it was one of the finest and most imposing railway stations in the country.
- Garden Vale. It's between the train/bus station and Church St. This is the best example of red/grey brick old world housing in the town. It consists of two/three storey imposing townhouses.
- Church of Corpus Christi. It's off Pearse Street on the west side of the river. A nice small stone parish church hidden away.
- Luan Gallery. Opposite St Peter's and Paul. It's a new swanky gallery in a new building which incorporates the former Father Matthew's Hall which in its day was the old library.
- Pearse Street. Home to a run of buildings on the right hand side as you walk up from St Peter's and Paul. They are occupied by various state bodies and are typical of state architecture from the 1940s. They include the Post Office, Garda Station, and Social Welfare Office.
- Athlone Railway Bridge. It's north of the road bridge and is visible from same. One of the finest railway bridges in the country. This one, which was built in 1851 spans Ireland's longest river, the Shannon.
- Athlone Castle. Built between 1129 and 1210 by the River Shannon. It is on the left bank of the river opposite the Church of St Peter & Paul. Its construction is crucial to the subsequent development of the town of Athlone. Along with King John's Castle in Limerick it is one of the oldest surviving castles in Ireland. It is open for visitors.
- Go golfing at the Glasson Golf & Country Club or the Mt. Temple Golf and Country Club.
- Sit on the east side of the river and enjoy a view of the Castle/Bridge and St Peter's & Paul. A walk along the strand gives a pleasant vista of the town and access to Burgess Park.
- Take a boat on the river.
- Take a drive out to the Hodson Bay which is on Lough Ree. Lovely peaceful spot with a fine hotel and golf course.
- Coosan Point located about two miles north of Athlone is a nice entry point for Lough Ree.
- 1 Dean Crowe Theatre, Chapel St, ☏ . On the west side of the town about a 5-minute walk from St Peter's and Paul. Check the Westmeath Independent newspaper for listings.
- 1 Golden Island Shopping Centre, Golden Island, ☏ . Has the likes of Tesco, Argos, Lifestyle Sports, and Athlone's cineplex.
- 2 Athlone Towncentre, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Features well known clothing stores such as M & S, River Island, H & M, Next, Easons and various eateries. It is a visually appealing and well laid-out over two floors.
- McGorisk for Men, 12 Church St, ☏ . Stockists of Hilfiger, Lacoste, Gant, State of Art, Replay, Gas, Diesel. Classy man's shop with a bridal shop upstairs.
- Allens, 8 Church St, ☏ . Giftware, kitchen shop and bedlinen store over two floors. Stockists of brands including Waterford Crystal, Belleek, Le Creuset, and Denby, etc.
- Church St. Features among the aforementioned, a fine selection of independent stores not found in shopping centres. These include Burgess Department Store (clothing and homewares), Sheffield Jewellers, Olivia Danielle (Classy Boutique), other female clothing shops including Jezebelle, Paco, Devernois and Clara Ellen. Shoe Zone is the last national chain store left on the street.
- Wood B Designs, Sean Costelloe St, ☏ . Stockists of quirky quality wooden handmade gifts as well as family crests.
- Burgess, Church Street. One of the last department stores left in the country. A fine store over three floors selling mainly clothing but also bedding and kitchenware.
- Athlone Springs Hotel, at Monksfield on the Tuam Road. Restaurant open for Sunday lunch and evening dinner.
- Prince of Wales Hotel. In the centre of Athlone. It offers breakfast, lunch and evening dinner.
- 1 Left bank Bistro, Fry Place Athlone (Old Town near castle), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Delicious food at reasonable prices and excellent service.
- 2 Kin Khao Thai, 1 Abbey Lane, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Authentic Thai cuisine that’s not watered down; an exciting wine cellar, a large range of craft beers and award-winning and friendly service
- 3 Thyme Restaurant, Custume Place, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M-Sa 17:00-22:00, Su 13:00-20:00.
- 4 The Fatted Calf, Church St, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 5 Di Bella, High St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Harveys Bar, Lloyds Lane, ☏ . Good pint and staff are nice. Customers are a great laugh.
- Karma Nightclub, Church St.
- Kellys, Dublin Gate St.
- Lough Ree Inn, Coosan Point.
- Potters Bar, Sean Costello St, ☏ . A pub for all ages with a great pint and great atmosphere. Soup and sandwiches served weekdays 12:30-15:30.
- Ricks, Church St.
- Riverside Inn, Castle St.
- 1 Sean's Bar, Main St, ☏ . Established in 900 AD. According to Guinness World Records, it is the oldest pub in Europe (and maybe in the world?)
- 2 The Castle Inn, Main St, ☏ .
- The Prince Bar, Prince Of Wales Hotel, Church St.
- 1 Wineport Lodge, Glasson (just outside the nearby village of Glasson), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A lakefront 5-star lodge with breathtaking views.
- 2 Prince of Wales Hotel, Church St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 4-star hotel in the centre of Athlone
- 3 Sheraton Hotel, Gleeson St (Town Centre), ☏ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. In the centre of Athlone with views over the whole town.
- 4 Hodson Bay Hotel, Roscommon Rd (off the N61, 4 miles north of Athlone), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 4-star hotel overlooking scenic Lough Ree
- 5 Creggan Court Hotel, Dublin Rd (on the N62, on the eastern edge of town), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 6 Athlone Springs Hotel, Tuam Rd (just outside the town), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 7 Shamrock Lodge Country House Hotel, Clonown Rd (just outside the town), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 8 Radisson Blu Hotel, Northgate St, ☏ .
Bed & Breakfast
- 9 Arch House B&B, Sean Costello St, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Bed and breakfast and self-catering apartments.
- 10 Shelmalier House, Cartrontroy, ☏ .
- 11 Mill Bar B&B, Tuam Rd (just outside the town), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Clonmacnoise, is 10 miles south of Athlone near Shannonbridge, Co Offaly. Along with Glendalough, Clonmacnoise is the best monastic site in Ireland. Head for Birr and turn off at Ballinahowen.
- Glasson, 4 miles northeast of Athlone, on the main Athlone to Cavan road, is a neat village, quaint and well maintained. Good views of Lough Ree on your left as you drive out from Athlone.
- Locke's Distillery, is in Kilbeggan, 20 miles east of Athlone along the M6.
- Clonfert is the location for a small cathedral with a stunning romanesque doorway. It is almost opposite Clonmacnoise. Take the motorway heading for Galway, and then branch off for Portumna at Ballinasloe. Along that road you'll see it signposted.
- Birr formerly known as Parsonstown, is a beautiful heritage town in County Offaly 28 miles southeast of Athlone along the N52. The road takes you through the boggy plains of the Midlands.
- Ardagh is a heritage village in County Longford. It is a beautiful old world rural English style village. It was founded by the Fetherstone family. Their house is now an agricultural college. It is about 3 miles off the main Athlone to Cavan road. Turn left at Carrickboy.