Ireland’s TOP 10 castles: Athlone Castle

By Peter Dlhopolec / March 8, 2020

Athlone Castle, King John’s Castle, and Adamson Castle represent the same fort.

Athlone Castle should be demolished because it is a symbol of the British oppression and a new civic centre for Athlone should, instead, be erected, the Athlone Council wrote in a 1967 resolution.

History of the stronghold, however, goes back before a stone castle built by the Anglo-Normans appeared here in 1210. The O’Connors had built a wooden Athlone bridge and castle “in the summer of the drought” in 1129 but both were demolished and eventually burned down. In the mentioned year of 1210, Bishop John de Grey of Norwich then built a fort for King John of England.

The castle, which dominates the town of Athlone set in the heart of Ireland, lies by the River Shannon. As Athlone used to be accessible only with difficulties because of the adjacent river and Lough Ree, a lake north of the town, a bridge had to be built with the castle overseeing it.

Its name also reveals it was not the easiest site to be accessed: “ath” means “a ford” and “luain” means “the moon”.

Image: Library Ireland

Today, the castle is the most important landmark in the city. After extensive renovations it was reopened in 2012 offering a café spot, exhibition spaces, and a great view of the town. Athlone has been recently named as a place with the most romantic people living in here besides.

From John’s Castle …

The stone castle was built on land belonging to a small but wealthy monastery of Ss Peter & Paul, which was later dismissed by Henry VIII. The Franciscans also founded a friary here in the 13th century.

When the Norman colony declined, the town decayed as well. The castle ended up in the hands of the O’Kellys of Hymany and the Dillons of Kilkenny-West. In 1569, a presidency of Connacht was established, and Athlone was thus reborn.

In the 17th century, Ireland was wracked by the wars, including the Irish Confederate Wars. The wars started when Irish Catholics wanted to take over the English administration in Ireland. These civil wars between kingdoms of Ireland, England and Scotland took 11 years to come to an end. The ethnic and religious conflict ended when Oliver Cromwell conquered Ireland, defeating the Irish Catholic Confederation in 1653.

Image: Athlone Castle

Athlone was besieged during the Williamite and Jacobite Wars forty years later as well. The town was first attacked by 10,000 Williamite troops, which failed to conquer Athlone in 1690. A year later, 25,000 Williamite troops again besieged the castle for more than a week leading to Athlone, controlled by the Jacobites, surrendering. They did not breach the bridge, however. Troops managed to find and cross the ford, for which Athlone was known for.

… to Adamson Castle

Later, the castle served as a military barracks for about three centuries. During this time, Athlone continued to grow thanks to the railway being constructed here in 1850 and Athlone Woollen Mills founded here a few years earlier.

In 1922, the castle was named after Brigadier George Adamson of the Free State Army, who was then shot dead. The incident happened a few months after the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December 1921, which ended the Irish War of Independence. However, the IRA was not happy about the Treaty, which did not include the unification of Ireland. As a result, further violence continued, and in one of the incidents Adamson was killed.

A hub of Athlone’s history

Athlone Castle did not resemble its current display for centuries. Athlone had undergone a huge renovation worth of millions before reopening in 2012.

There are eight self-guided galleries mapping the history of Athlone. Tourists find here touch screens, games such as a giant outdoor chess, 360-degree cinematic experience of the 1690 Siege, and many artifacts. Tourists will also learn more about John Count McCormack, who was born in Athlone. He is regarded one of the best tenors of all times.

The castle houses a café as well. Athlone Castle offers also a panoramic view over the town and the River Shannon from the drum-towers.

Image: Athlone Castle

Moreover, the town of Athlone is home to Sean’s Bar, officially the oldest pub in Europe. Athlone is just 125km from Dublin and is served also by train on the Dublin-Galway and Dublin-Ballina/Westport lines.

READ ALSO: Ireland has found a town with the most romantic people.

About the author

Peter Dlhopolec

Leave a comment: