Baile Átha Luain
The River Shannon and the Church of Ss Peter and Paul.
|Motto: Urbes Stant Legibus|
|Province||Leinster and Connacht|
|County||County Westmeath and
|Elevation||56 m (184 ft)|
|• Urban||15,558 - legal boundary|
|• Rural||4,595 - urban environs|
|Irish Grid Reference||N033420|
|Dialing code||090, +353 90|
Athlone (//; 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.
Athlone Castle is the geographical and historical center 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 seventeenth 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 Boyne 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.
Location and access
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.
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 Ss Peter and Paul.
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 the Athenry 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 Eireann, the national bus operator, operates beside the railway station and provides an hourly service to Dublin and Galway. Other services provide transportation 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, Saint 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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".
Tourism and amenities
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.
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.
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. The town's tourist office is located on Church Street.
The Dublin-Galway Greenway will run through Athlone. The disused Athlone-Mullingar Railway will be used for the greenway in the east, and a new bridge is planned to be built for bicycle and pedestrian traffic beside the Luan Gallery .
Education and industry
Athlone's major employers include Élan, a pharmaceutical company that originated in Athlone; Bioclin Laboratories, another pharmaceutical company; Ericsson, a telecommunications business; Tyco Healthcare, a medical equipment supplier; Utah Medical, another medical equipment supplier; Pharmaplaz, another pharmaceutical company; Alienware, a computer hardware business; ICT Eurotel, a contact centre; and Athlone Extrusions, a polymer supplier.
Athlone is the regional centre for a large number of state-run and semi-state-run organisations. The Department of Education, State Examinations Commission, Revenue Commissioners, FÁS Midlands Region, Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann, IDA Ireland, and Enterprise Ireland all have bases in the town. Athlone is also a major Irish military centre, as the Custume Barracks, which lie on the west bank of the Shannon in the town, is the headquarters of the Western Command of the Irish Army.
The Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is the regional third level college. Athlone forms part of the Midlands Gateway, an in-progress infrastructure initiative, along with Mullingar and Tullamore. Alongside the Waterford Institute of Technology, AIT harbours ambitions of attaining university status, as there is no institution providing university-level education in the Irish Midlands. The AIT has a campus size of 44 acres and is planning advertising development to expand further. The institute's new, purpose-built facilities include the Hospitality, Tourism, and Leisure Studies building, built in 2003; the Nursing and Health Science building, built in 2005; the Midlands Innovation and Research Centre, also built in 2005; the Engineering and Informatics building, built in 2010; and the Postgraduate Research Hub, also built in 2010. RTÉ's Midlands studio and office are located at AIT.
The Athlone Institute of Technology has memorandum of understanding with the Rio de Janeiro State University, one of the largest universities in the Brazilian city. AIT also has agreements with the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais, one of the largest and most prestigious Brazilian private universities. The Institute also founded agreements with two leading Beijing universities, the Capital University of Economics and Business and the Beijing Union University. The agreements were signed by the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland and university representatives. Other agreements exist between the AIT and TVTC, in Saudi Arabia, and a memorandum of understanding exists with the Georgia Institute of Technology. Further agreements exist with the Bharati Vidyapeeth, one of the largest universities in India.
There are five major secondary schools in the Athlone area, the Athlone Community College, a coeducational school; Our Lady's Bower School, a girls' school; Marist College, a boys' school; St. Aloysius' College, a boys' school; and Summerhill College, a girls' school.
In June 2010, Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced his support of the proposed European and Chinese training hub in Athlone. In May 2012, the project was given the go-ahead by An Bord Pleanála. When completed, it will comprise a total of nine exhibition halls, nine smaller independent exhibition buildings, one temporary exhibition space, several offices, administrative services, some living quarters, hotels, shops, restaurants, pubs, a school, and train station.
Between 1931 and 1975 the main radio transmission centre for Irish radio was located at Moydrum, Athlone ( ). The original call sign was 2RN, a wordplay on the song "Come back to Erin". The station subsequently became known as "Radio Athlone" and could clearly be heard throughout Europe, and as far away as Moscow. This changed as bandwidth allocations were accorded at the Helsinki Declaration.
The station originally operated at a power of 60 kW, which during the 1950s, was increased to 100 kW. For antenna, a T-antenna was and is still used, which spins between two 100-metre tall guyed masts with square cross sections and which are insulated against ground. Many old radio sets in Europe had the "Athlone" dial position marked near the end of their tuning scales.
In the late 1970s the station reopened on a new dial position of 612 kHz for "Radio 2", later known as RTÉ 2fm. Moydrum was also the location of Ireland's short-lived Shortwave international radio service, which was closed down in 1948 due to lack of money. Today, RTÉ's Midlands studios are located in Athlone, at St. Mary's Square. The local radio station is Midlands 103. Many also tune into the Shannonside station.
A new radio station, i102-104fm, has recently been launched,[when?] geared to the 18–34 age group of the Midlands and Northeast. Additionally, in affirmation of Athlone's broadcasting roots, a Christian-oriented station is about to be launched on a nationwide basis, using the 612 kHz band.
The Athlone Community Taskforce and several members of the Roscommon community radio station, RosFM, have begun broadcasting from the Athlone area under the banner of Athlone Community Radio. Their first broadcast was on 15 March 2008 and the broadcasts were originally set to run every Saturday and Sunday for the following 15 weeks, until their temporary license expired. They received a 10-year licence on 14 January 2011 from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and they currently broadcast on the frequency of 88.4 FM.
In addition to being home to the Athlone Regional Sports Centre, the town has a variety of sporting organisations. Namely, there is the Athlone Town Football Club, who play their home games at Athlone Town Stadium in Lissywollen, an arena with a 5,000 person capacity. The Athlone Town Football Club won the League of Ireland Championship in 1981 and 1983, as well as the FAI Cup in 1924. The team also qualified for the 1975–76 UEFA Cup, where they played 0–0 against AC Milan.
The newly opened, ten million Euro, Athlone IT International Arena, is now Ireland's first world class indoor athletics arena, boasting a floor space of nearly 10,000 square metres. The arena was opened by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and has been admired by sporting legends such as Sonia O'Sullivan. It has also hailed by Senator Eamonn Coghlan as the "best news story in Irish athletics history".
Athlone hosted the European Triathlon Championships in 2010, when approximately 5,000 athletes participated in the event. Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain won the event. Two years later he won a gold medal in the triathlon at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Athlone is home to several Gaelic football teams, including Tubberclair GAA, Garrycastle GAA, and Athlone GAA, with St. Brigids (Roscommon) GAA and Clann na nGael GAA being located outside Athlone itself. Garrycastle GAA qualified for the 2012 All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship for the first time in the club's history by beating Connacht Champions, St. Brigids GAA, in an all-Athlone semi-final. Garrycastle eventually lost the final to Crossmaglen Rangers in a replay of the final, the first match having ended in a draw by a scoreline of 1–12 to 0–15.
Athlone is also home to Buccaneers RFC, whose the club's grounds are at Dubarry Park. Dubarry Park, with a 10,000 person capacity, is also home to the Connacht Eagles, the team that represents Connacht in the British and Irish Cup and in the All Ireland Inter-provincial Championship.
- Pat Barlow, (1915–?) 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.
- Rob 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.
- Brendan Shine, (1947–) folk/country singer.
- George Thomas Stokes, (1843–1898) ecclesiastical historian.
Athlone has long been the largest urban centre of heroin use outside Dublin. A report released by the Health Research Board described areas of "Athlone had an identifiable substance-use problem." The study revealed many residents had used heroin by their 18th birthday. Athlone experiences serious problems with heroin and cocaine addiction.
A report from the Midlands Regional Drug Task Force in 2005 reported that "Athlone town had become a 'heroin black spot'". It then expanded to say that heroin is more available in Athlone than in either Limerick or Cork. The report also discussed children as young as thirteen smoking heroin. The report suggests that heroin is "the easiest drug of all to get in the town". Senior Midland Health Board official at the time, Bill Ebbitt, says there is considerable ecstasy use in the town, while there is "no shortage of cannabis in any part of the midlands". On 2 November 2011, an Athlone judge stated that heroin was "causing carnage" and serious damage to the area. As recently as 23 August 2012, Athlone has had the highest drug crime statistics in the region.
Athlone has had numerous bomb threats over the past years, including one on 10 October 2008, when a viable explosive device was found in the Athlone area. Possible links to a feud between factions in the midlands have been explored by Garda Síochána. On 10 March 2010, two viable pipe bombs were found outside two separate head shops in the town. The attacks were later traced to disgruntled drug dealers in the area. On 24 April 2012, an improvised explosive device was found outside a private residence in the town. All devices were made safe by Army Bomb Disposal teams.
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