Compiled by Gearoid O' Brien
The first real signs of settlement at Athlone grew up in Anglo-Norman times around the castle which was built for King John of England by his Irish justiciar Bishop John De Gray of Norwich. Though not the first castle to be built at Athlone this castle has endured like no other. Looking at it today it still incorporates elements of the castle of 1210 together with various additions and alterations which were made in response to advances in warfare. It has many of the characteristics of a Napoleonic fortification as it was remodelled during that period to defend the crossing point of the Shannon.
Over the centuries it has been the nucleus of the Anglo-Norman settlement; a stronghold of the rival local families the Dillons and the O’Kelly’s; the seat of the Court of Claims; the residence of the President of Connaught and the Jacobite stronghold during the sieges of Athlone. After the Siege of Athlone it became incorporated into the new military barrack complex. It remained a stronghold of the garrison for almost three hundred years.
In 1922 when the Free State troops took over the Barracks from their British counterparts they proudly flew the tricolour from a temporary flagpole much to the delight of the majority of townspeople.
In 1967 the Old Athlone Society established a museum in the castle with a range of exhibits relating to Athlone and its environs and also to folk-life in the district. Two years later when the military left the castle it was handed over to the Office of Public Works and the central keep became a National Monument.
In 1991 to mark the Tercentenary of the Siege of Athlone the castle became the foremost visitor attraction in Athlone. Athlone Town Council (then Athlone UDC) made a major investment in Athlone Castle creating a multi-faceted Visitor Centre.
Athlone Castle celebrated its 800th Anniversary in 2010. The facilities were recently re-developed to bring the standards of interpretation and display in line with the visitor expectations of the twenty-first century. The Keep of Athlone Castle is now used to tell the dramatic story of the famous Siege of Athlone while the other buildings house a modern interpretative centre focusing on Athlone, the Castle and the periods both before and after the Siege.
Athlone Castle re-opened its doors to the public on Tuesday 6th November 2012.
Read more about the Athlone Castle experience, visit www.athloneartandheritage.ie
The eight newly designed exhibition spaces pursue both a chronological and thematic sequence combining hands-on and fun experiences that will appeal to both children and adults.More about Athlone Castle