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Baile Átha Luain
The River Shannon and the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.
The River Shannon and the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.
Coat of arms of Athlone
Coat of arms
Motto: Urbes Stant Legibus
Country Ireland
Province Leinster and Connacht
County County Westmeath and
County Roscommon
Dáil Éireann Longford–Westmeath
Elevation 56 m (184 ft)
Population (2011)
 • Total 20,153
Eircode N37
Irish Grid Reference N033420
Dialing code 090, +353 90

Athlone (/æθˈln/; Irish: Baile Átha Luain, meaning town of Luan's ford) is a town on the River Shannon near the southern shore of Lough Ree in Ireland. It is the largest town in the Midlands Region. Most of the town lies on the east bank of the river; however, by the terms of the Local Government Act of 1898, six townlands on the west bank of the Shannon were deemed to be part of the town and, therefore, part of County Westmeath.

The 2011 Census of Ireland recorded the population of the town at 20,153, a 14.8% increase from 2006. Recent growth has also occurred outside the town's boundaries.

Athlone is near the geographical centre of Ireland, which is 8.85 kilometres (5.50 mi) north-northwest of the town, in the area of Carnagh East in County Roscommon.


Athlone Castle is the geographical and historical centre of Athlone. Throughout its early history, the ford of Athlone was strategically important, as south of Athlone the Shannon is impassable until Clonmacnoise, where the Esker Riada meets the Shannon, while to the north it flows into Lough Ree. In 1001 Brian Bóru sailed his army up river from Kincora and through Lough Derg to attend a gathering in Athlone.

A bridge was built across the river in the 12th century, approximately 100 metres (330 ft) south of the current structure. To protect the bridge, a fort was constructed on the river's west bank, within Athlone, by Turloch Mór Ó Conor. On a number of occasions both the fort and bridge were subject to attacks, and towards the end of the 12th century the Anglo-Normans constructed a motte-and-bailey fortification there. This earthen fort was followed by a stone structure built in 1210 by Justiciar John de Gray. The 12-sided donjon, or tower, dates from this time; however, the rest of the original castle was largely destroyed during the Siege of Athlone and subsequently rebuilt and enlarged.

Throughout the wars that wracked Ireland in the 17th century, Athlone contained the vital, main bridge over the River Shannon into Connacht. During the Irish Confederate Wars (1641–53), the town was held by Irish Confederate troops until it was taken by Charles Coote in late 1650, who attacked the town from the west, having crossed into Connacht at Sligo.

Forty years later, during the pan-European War of the Grand Alliance (1688–97), the town was again of key strategic importance. This time around, Athlone was one of the Jacobite strongholds that defended the river-crossings into the confederate-held Province of Connacht following the Battle of the Brits on 1 July 1690. That same year, Colonel Richard Grace's Jacobite forces in Athlone repelled an attack by 10,000 men led by Commander Douglas. In the following year's campaign, the Siege of Athlone saw a further assault by a larger allied force, during which the invading troops of King William and Queen Mary eventually overran the entire city. The defenders were forced to flee further west, toward the River Suck, at such speed that eyewitness accounts record that they "flung their cannons into the morass" as they fled. The most recently discovered account of the Siege of Athlone, written after the attack, on 5 July 1691, was found in 2004 in an archive in the Netherlands. The account was penned by the victorious commanding officer from the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, general lieutenant Godard van Reede, in letters written to his family in mainland Europe. In the account, the commanding allied officer reported that half of the city's defenders retreated westward, towards the rest of their army, leaving almost 2,000 dead within the city walls and more than 100 taken prisoner, including dozens of officers.

In the 1970s it was proposed in the Republican Éire Nua programme to make Athlone the capital city of a federal United Ireland. This proposal is still upheld by the Republican Sinn Féin.

Athlone Castle, Church of Saints Peter and Paul and the River Shannon

Location and access

St Mary's Catholic Church

The part of the town that lies east of the Shannon is in the province of Leinster, the county of Westmeath, the barony of Brawny, and the civil parish of St Mary's. Unusually, the barony is coterminous with a single civil parish. In terms of ecclesiastical boundaries, the eastern past of the town is in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and the parish of St Mary's.

St Peter and Paul Church Athlone
Church of Saints Peter and Paul

However, seven townlands, or sections of the town, lie west of the Shannon: Athlone and Big Meadow, Bellaugh, Bogganfin, Canal and Banks, Doovoge, part of Monksland, and Ranelagh. Although surrounded by County Roscommon in the province of Connacht, they are designated as part of County Westmeath to preserve the integrity of the town. These townlands lie in St Peter's civil parish in the barony of Athlone South. In terms of ecclesiastical boundaries, the townlands west of the Shannon are part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Elphin and the parish of Saints Peter and Paul.


Athlone canal
Pleasure cruisers exiting the Athlone canal by the weir on the Shannon. June 2013

Athlone is a popular stop for pleasure craft along the River Shannon. Lough Ree, the largest lake on the Shannon, is a short distance upstream from Athlone, and many boat companies are based out of the town. For craft to pass through Athlone, it is necessary to use a lock in the river, which beside the weir and downstream of the current road bridge. The lock, weir, and bridge were all constructed by the Shannon navigation commissioners in the 1840s. Before then, boats used a canal, about a mile and a half long, to the west of the river. The canal was built by Thomas Omer for the Commissioners of Inland Navigation. Work started in 1757 and involved the work of over 300 men. Omer built a single lock, 120′ X 19′ with a rise of 4.5′, but there was also a guard lock, further upstream, with a single set of gates to protect the canal against floods. There were also two lay-bys, or harbours, one above the lock and another at the upstream end. The old canal is no longer navigable.


Athlone railway station opened on 3 October 1859, with Irish Rail services travelling eastwards to Portarlington, Kildare and Dublin Heuston and westwards to the Westport/Ballina lines as well as to Athenry, Oranmore and Galway.

Connections from Athlone via a train transfer at Athenry railway station extend to Ennis and Limerick, while a transfer at Portarlington connects Limerick Junction and Limerick. There are trains from Portarlington to Mallow, and from Mallow to Cork, Killarney, Farranfore and Tralee. Travel between Athlone and Killdare enables connections to Carlow, Kilkenny and Waterford.


In Athlone, Bus Éireann, the national bus operator, operates beside the railway station and provides an hourly service to Dublin and Galway. Other services provide transport to Limerick, Dundalk, Waterford, Cavan, Belfast, Longford and Roscommon. The town is also home to a number of privately operated services, including the Flagline bus company, which operates local bus routes as well as service to Tullamore.

Bus Éireann also operates a local Athlone bus service. The local services are as follows: Route 459: Bus Station, Willow Park (Norwood Court) via Golden Island Shopping Centre, Dublin Road and Athlone Institute Of Technology; and Route 459A: Monksland (River Village); Garrycastle (Moydrum Road) via Galway Road, St. Peter's Avenue, Saint Anne's Terrace, the Batteries, Connaught Street, Northgate Street, Bus Station, Golden Island Shopping Centre, Dublin Road and Athlone Institute of Technology.


The town is situated on the N6 road connecting Galway to Dublin. The route follows a dual carriageway bypass of Athlone around the northern side of the town, crossing the River Shannon into County Roscommon. A number of national secondary roads connect Athlone with other towns and regions. The N55 road connects the town with Ballymahon and Cavan, the N61 road connects it with Roscommon, and the N62 road connects it with Birr, Roscrea, and Southern Ireland. The M6 motorway connects the town directly with Dublin and Galway, cutting travelling and commuting time considerably. Taxi service is widely available throughout the area.


There are three theatres in Athlone, the Dean Crowe Theatre & Arts Centre, the Little Theatre, and Passionfruit Theatre.

RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival takes place annually in Athlone, bringing together nine amateur drama groups from across Ireland. The festival is supported by an active fringe which involves street theatre, art exhibitions, workshops and events for young people.

Athlone Literary Festival is an annual event which began in 1999, originally as a weekend celebration of the life and works of John Broderick, but which now features a great variety of speakers and debaters.

Count John McCormack was born in Athlone, and for many years, an annual festival held in the town has celebrated this world-renowned tenor.

Athlone School of Music opened in 2005, and is a grant aided project aimed at developing music education and services in the Midlands region.

Abbey Road Artists' Studios launched in 2011 in a unique building constructed in 1841. The studios offer a dedicated space in Athlone for local and visiting artists. The artists' studios consist of four individual artists' studios as well as a large multi-purpose upstairs space suitable for a variety of community cultural events, including exhibitions, performances, workshops and seminars. The Abbey Road artists' studios work closely with the Luan Art Gallery.

In 1954, Athlone became the first branch of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the town had a large part in the organisation's creation.


American crime writer James M. Cain references Athlone in his 1937 book, Serenade, in a passage where two characters discuss tenor John McCormack: "--There's the language he was born to. John McCormack comes from Dublin". "He does not. He comes from Athlone". "Didn't he live in Dublin?". "No Matter. They speak a fine brogue in Athlone, almost as fine as in Belfast". "It's a fine brogue, but it's not brogue. It's the English language as it was spoken before all the other countries of the world forgot how to speak it. There's two things a singer can't buy, beg or steal, and that no teacher, coach or conductor can give him. One is his voice, the other is the language that was born in his mouth. When McCormack was singing Handel he was singing English, and he sings it as no American and no Englishman will ever sing English".

The Irish poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere wrote a poem The Ballad of Athlone which is an account of an incident in the 1691 siege.

Tourism and amenities

The promenade on the River Shannon is popular among anglers, birdwatchers and swimmers. The lake shore is accessed from Coosan Point and Hodson Bay. The town is also home to Lough Ree Yacht Club.

Remains of the abbey at Athlone

Owing to its easy accessibility and large choice of shops, Athlone is the main retail destination for residents in the Midlands region of Ireland. The vibrant town centre extends from Church Street in the west to Sean Costello Street in the east. The centre is flanked by the Athlone town centre, a modern shopping centre, built in 2007, containing 54 shops, cafes and the four star Sheraton Athlone Hotel.

South of the city centre is the other shopping centre, the Golden Island Shopping Centre, which opened in 1997.
Golden Island Shopping Centre, opened 1997
View From Town Centre Looking West
View looking west from the town centre

Athlone has many hotels including the Sheraton Athlone Hotel, The Shamrock Lodge Hotel, The Prince of Wales Hotel, the Athlone Springs Hotel and the Hodson Bay Hotel.

St. Mary's Church of Ireland in Church Street

Athlone Regional Sports Centre is a sports facility within the town, which was established May 2002 and developed by the Town Council. The facility contains a swimming pool, gym and AstroTurf pitches.

Sean's Bar, located on the west bank of the river, is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest pub in Europe.

Athlone Castle reopened in 2012 following a multi-million euro renovation to transform the castle into a state-of-the-art, multi-sensory visitor experience. It features eight newly designed exhibition spaces containing both a chronological and thematic sequence, including 3D maps, audio-visual installations, and illustrations by renowned illustrator Victor Ambrus. Ambrus is best known for his work on Channel 4's television series Time Team.

In 2012, the Luan Gallery, a new multi-million euro contemporary art gallery opened in the town. The gallery is the first purpose-built, modern visual art gallery located in the Midlands. It was designed by Keith Williams, who also designed the Athlone Town Civic Centre. The gallery was opened by Jimmy Deenihan, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The Luan opened with a prestigious exhibition from the Irish Museum of Modern Art, featuring the work of accomplished national and international artists.

Other popular attractions for visitors are the Glendeer Open Farm and the Viking Cruise of the Shannon. Athlone is also home to Baysports,located near the Hodson Bay Hotel. Baysports is a boat training and water spots centre and it also has the world's largest floating inflatable water slide as awarded by The Guinness Book of World Records. The town's tourist office is located on Church Street.


The Dublin-Galway Greenway will run through Athlone. The disused Athlone-Mullingar Railway has been inaugurated to form part of the greenway in the east and a new bridge is planned to be built for bicycle and pedestrian traffic beside the Luan Gallery .


  • The Earls of Athlone
  • Pat Barlow, (1914–1986) professional footballer.
  • Paul Brock, (1989–) accordionist.
  • John Broderick, (1924–1989) Irish novelist.
  • James J. Browne, the current president of the National University of Ireland, Galway.
  • Michael Joseph Curley, (1879–1947) Catholic Archbishop and educationalist.
  • Stephen Donohoe, (1984–) jockey and sailor.
  • Thomas Duffy, (1806-1868) recipient of the Victoria Cross.
  • Lisa Dwan, (1977–) actress.
  • Jimmy Elliott, (1838–1883) Irish-American world heavyweight boxing champion from 1865 to 1868.
  • Thomas Flynn, (1842–1892) an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross.
  • John Ellard Gore, (1845–1910) astronomer one of the founding members of British Astronomical Association.
  • Robbie Henshaw, (1993–) Irish rugby union player.
  • Declan Lynch, (1961–) novelist and playwright.
  • John McCormack, (1884-1945) tenor.
  • Nicky McFadden, (1962–2014) Teachta Dála.
  • Seán William McLoughlin, (1990–) popular YouTube game commentator known by the name of Jacksepticeye.
  • Stefan Molyneux, (1966–) host of Freedomain Radio.
  • T. P. O'Connor, (1848–1929) journalist and Member of Parliament.
  • Caroline O'Donnell, (1974–) architect and author.
  • Mary O'Rourke, (1937–) a politician of various ministry roles and an author.
  • Richard Rothwell, (1800–1868) a nineteenth-century Irish portrait and genre painter.
  • Marcus Seoige, (1976–) actor.
  • Brendan Shine, (1947–) folk/country singer.
  • George Thomas Stokes, (1843–1898) ecclesiastical historian.

Twin towns

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