Athy is a town in County Kildare in the midlands of Ireland, 72 km southwest of Dublin. It's long been a quiet market and garrison town, expanding in the late 20th century as it became part of the Dublin commuter belt. In 2016 the population of Athy was 9677.
Baile Átha Í is Irish for "town of the ford of Ae" - Ae was supposedly a 2nd century chieftain slain at the river crossing. A bridge over the River Barrow definitely existed by 1417, along with a castle to defend it. The main conflict to afflict the town was the Confederate war of the 1640s, part of the Civil Wars, concluded definitively but brutally by Cromwell. The English then ensured that a large loyal garrison was stationed here. They stood firm against the rebels of 1798, who gained much of County Kildare but did the loyalists a good turn by killing the messenger bringing orders to retreat to Naas. In 1791 the river was linked by canal from Athy to the Grand Canal at Robertstown, and these all remain navigable.
The TIC is within the Heritage Centre or Shackleton Museum.
Trains run every 2-3 hours from Dublin Heuston via Newbridge and Kildare, taking 45 min to Athy, and continuing to Carlow, Bagenalstown / Muine Bheag, Kilkenny, Thomastown and Waterford (another 80 min). By rail from other cities such as Cork, Limerick or Galway involves going all the way into Dublin then out again. A walk-up single from Dublin might be €10, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and on-line tickets.
Athy 1 railway station is 200 m east of town centre.
GoAhead Commuter Bus 130 runs 3 or 4 times a day from Naas via Kilcullen, 40 min. In rush hour two services from Athy go all the way into Dublin and return in the evening.
By road from Dublin take M9 to Exit 3 then N78 into town.
Athy is on the national waterways network. The Barrow Navigation branches off the Dublin-Shannon Grand Canal at Robertstown and courses south through Athy, Carlow and into the tidal river at New Ross and Waterford. Obviously there are limits on how far a rental boat may be taken.
The town is compact, but you need wheels to reach Burtown Gardens, Moone or Ballyadams. A bike would do.
Taxi operators are Crom a Boo Cabs +353 59 863 2463 and Val's Cabs +353 87 704 0245.
- 1 White's Castle, Duke St, Athy. Closed. This stands at the east end of the river bridge. It was built in 1417 but re-built in the following century as "the white castle", corrupted to "White's" but it's not named for anyone. 16th century documents mention a second castle at the west end, but no trace of that has been found, so it might just have been an intention. White's Castle was bashed about in the Confederate Wars then became the local prison, earning poor guest reviews. It was later a police barracks then from the 19th century a private dwelling, and so remains, with no tours.
- Crom a Boo Bridge carries N78 Duke St across the River Barrow. The first known bridge was built along with White's Castle in 1417, with the present version from 1796. Although "Athy" indicates a ford, chances are there was an earlier wooden bridge, or rather a series of them washed away in floods. Divers in the Shannon at Clonmacnoise have found bridge foundation piles from the 9th century; bridging the Barrow is a far simpler construction task, but to date no similar evidence has turned up here. The name is the Fitzgerald clan motto Crom Abu - "Crom forever" - Crom in County Limerick was their bastion. Cars may not stop on the bridge, use the car park at its west end, the one that isn't next to a second castle.
- Shackleton Museum (Athy Heritage Centre), Town Hall, Emily Square R14 KW65, ☏ . W-F 10:00-17:00. They're bigging up their local hero, but the museum also depicts other aspects of Athy's turbulent past.
- 2 Woodstock Castle was built in the 13th century to guard the north approaches to the ford. It was much smashed and patched up in later centuries, most lately in the Civil Wars in 1648. It's now a fenced-off blank cube of masonry with no interior access, so what it most resembles is a late-Norman electricity substation.
- St Michael's Old Cemetery on Dublin Rd just east of the railway station contains the ruin of the 14th century St Michael's church. This was replaced by a church closer to town centre, then by another in 1803, finally by the present RC church on Stanhope St north of White's Castle. It's a 1960s retro-Italianate building.
- Moate of Ardschull on R418 five km northeast of town was a motte, an oval mound 11 m high surrounded by a ditch and embankment. It was probably built 12th century, with wooden palisades. But it was planted with trees in the 19th century and you'll need to use your imagination.
- 3 Burtown House & Gardens, Burtown Little R14 AE67, ☏ . W-F 09:00-17:30. 12 acres of gardens, park and woodland. It's also possible to tour the house, a Georgian villa, by prior arrangement. They offer accommodation, and run Green Barn restaurant here. Adult €8, child €5.
- 4 Quaker Museum, Main St, Ballitore. F Sa W 10:00-13:00, 14:00-17:00, Th 12:30-16:00, 17:00-20:00. The village of Ballitore was settled by Quakers from Yorkshire in the early 18th century. They founded a school, and the parliamentarian Edmund Burke was one of its pupils. The museum of those Quaker times is within the public library, which was once the home of the writer Mary Leadbeater (1758-1826). She documented terrible scenes in Ballitore during reprisals against the rebels of 1798: the troops slew whoever they could lay hands on, and almost Mary herself. Free.
- 5 Moone High Cross is a remarkable 8th century cross, 7 m tall and richly carved. It was discovered in bits in the 19th century and re-assembled; there are also fragments of another cross. The old church housing it (with a modern roof) is about all that's left of the abbey here. A 15th century turret stands nearby. The site is now within the grounds of Moone Abbey House, sometimes open for B&B but with no access in 2021. Appropriately, Moone is from Irish Maen, property, in this case the property of St Colmcille. The village straggles along R448, which was the Dublin to Waterford road until bypassed by M9.
- 6 Castledermot is a village further south on R448 near the boundary with County Carlow. The remains of St Diarmuid's 9th century monastery are now within the precincts of St James Church: a Round Tower (given medieval battlements), two High Crosses, a 12th C Romanesque doorway and a "hogback" gravestone, rare in Ireland. 200 m south, the ruined church was part of the Franciscan friary built circa 1300.
- 7 Ballyadams Castle is just over the boundary in County Laois. It looks like the ruin of a grandiose gatehouse, but it's a 15th century tower house with a 17th century fortified house added behind, which is even more dilapidated. You'll have to make do with a view from the lane.
ShackletonThe Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) was born in Kilkea, and was ten when the family moved to London. He's best remembered for his epic journey in 1915 from the Weddell Sea, where his ship was crushed by ice, to Elephant Island then South Georgia Island to fetch rescue. Another hero with him on that trip was Tom Crean of Annascaul near Dingle. On his last polar expedition, Shackleton died of a heart attack at South Georgia and is buried there.
- Boat trips: Athy Boat Tours run one- and 3-hour river cruises, usually Sa Su but mid-week if there's demand.
- Boat hire for extended trips can be organised with Barrowline Cruisers. They're northwest at Vicarstown in County Laois.
- Athy Golf Club is 2 km northeast of town, blue tees 6436, par 71. There's also a course at Kilkea Castle Hotel.
- Gordon Bennett Classic Car Rally, open to vehicles of 30+ years, circles through Portlaoise, Kildare, Stradbally, Athy and Carlow. It's held in June over the Bank Holiday weekend. The next is probably 3-6 June 2022, tbc.
- Lidl next to the railway station is open M-Sa 08:00-22:00, Su 09:00-21:00.
- The market is held in Emily Square, Tu 09:00-14:00.
- Most pubs are on Leinster St: C I Bar, Anderson's, Clancy's, Frank O'Brien's, Kane's and McEvoys.
- West of the bridge are The Duke, Paddy Dunne's, W Doyle, and the Auld Shebeen.
- The Auld Shebeen, Upper William St R14 RY62, ☏ . Daily 12:00-23:30. Atmospheric pub by the canal does meals and has rooms.
- 1 Clanard Court Hotel, Dublin Rd, Athy R14 FY90 (1 km east of town), ☏ . Pleasant slick hotel with good food. B&B double €120.
- Hawthorn B&B is next to Clanard Court Hotel, and Aurora House is behind on Gallow Hill. The Carlton Abbey Hotel has closed down.
- 2 Moone High Cross Inn, Bolton R14 F767 (off R448), ☏ . Comfy 18th century inn with good restaurant.
- 3 Kilkea Castle, Kilkea Demesne, Castledermot R14 XE97 (Off R448, take Exit 3 of M9 onto R747), ☏ . The castle was first built in 1180, rebuilt in 1426, and converted into a hotel in the 1960s. It gets great reviews for comfort, service and ambiance. Plus spa and golf course. B&B double €230.
As of July 2021, Athy has 4G from Three, and 5G from Eir and Vodafone.
- Kildare is near the National Stud and Japanese Gardens, and Curragh racecourse.
- Carlow has a fine cathedral and semi-demolished castle.
- Portlaoise is near Rock of Dunamase, and Stradbally holds events such as steam rallies.