Athlone town is the largest town in Co. Westmeath. It has a rich historical significance because it held a pivotal position in Irish history. The town was founded in the twelfth century when a bridge crossing the River Shannon was built. Soon after the Anglo-Normans constructed a wooden fortification to defend the bridge. The town became known as the gateway to the West as it was the only location where one could cross the river for miles around. As the years went by, due to attacks and damage caused, the fortification was upgraded to a stone structure. Said structure, Athlone Castle, has stood and remains standing to this day.
Due to its strategic location it came under many attacks throughout history. The existing battlements faced onslaughts from the local Irish, the invading French, British Parliamentarians, and finally the Williamites.
Today the castle remains standing and on site you can find the very informative Visitor Centre which houses 8 individual galleries. Each gallery holds tales of a different aspect of Athlone’s diverse past. The entry fee is very cheap costing only a few euro and well worth it to experience the interactive hands on displays on offer.
The countryside of County Westmeath is home to several historical and religious sites of significance that are also worth visiting if you’re in the area, especially if you are a fan of walking as these can be found upon many of the popular trails.