The Athenry Castle
"The Castle consists of a towering Keep surrounded by a curtain wall with three towers, one rectangular and two round.
The Keep was basically a castle within a castle where the lord and his family and loya retainers lived. The river Clareen on the East side of the castle fed a wet ditch or moat encircling it."
The keep could be seen from our house and it costs 2.50 Euro to explore inside. It's the reason Athenry was settled and is a very important landmark in town. If you have kids in tow there is a small park on the grounds and the Dominican Priory is across the road.
- Budget Travel
This ruined priory is right across from Athenry castle. It was built in 1241and is a great example of a Medieval Monastary.
I expolored the grounds during the day and at night after a night at the Castlegate Hotel. I prefered during the day because the locals say it's haunted.
- Road Trip
Our Lady's well
The complex of holy buildings known as 'Our Lady's well' is just out of the town, about a mile away and well signposted.
This place has been a site of pilgrimage for hundreds of years followinng an appearance of the Virgin Mary to defeated soldiers following the second battle of Athenry on 15th August 1249. These days the feast days draws a few hundred worshippers, although in the past they came in their thousands.
It is certainly a tranquil place to spend a few moments with the grotto, a well with a small hand-pump you can use to fill a bottle of holy water and various sculptures and monuments. There is also something called the 'headache stone' which was formallt a base for a medieval cross, but is now said to have healing properties.
In addition the area between the grotto and the road was laid out as a formal park for the millenium in the shape of a celtic cross - and that contains a very striking modern piece of scuplture with the vigin mary comforting a wounded soldier.
- Religious Travel
No monks with dirty habits anymore
The ruined abbey is just across the road from the castle and grounds in Athenry, and was founded in 1241 by Meiler de Bermingham - the same bloke who built the castle. I guess planning permission was more easily gained in those days.
The place burned down in 1423, it was re-built with a central tower and the present northern doorway.
Restored further in 1638-44, it was declared a university for the Dominican Order by decree of a General Chapter held in Rome.
It was all over just eight years later when Cromwell's henchman smashed the place about in an effort to smash the Papist Irish.
It's quite a nice place to wander about for a little while. The grounds around it are still in use as burial grounds.
The photo comes from the Galway Library connectiona nd shows how it looked about 100 years ago - there is little changed today.
The heritage centre
Based right in the middle of town in an abandoned church is a museum / heritage centre looking at the history of Athenry. (there is also an entrance opposite Athenry castle)
It's not spectacular but there is a good range of explanatory boards and models.
I was also quite impressed with the churchyard around the heritage centre which features some modern 'robotic' type sculptures and some fun little diversions for kids including a kind of archery game, other 'medieval' games, and a simple maze - I knew those old fence panels would come in useful one day.
If you really must, you can also dress up in medieval costumes for photographs.
Open every day April-September 10am -6 pm
- Museum Visits
The Market cross
The market cross, right in the middle of the town, is apparantly unique in Ireland for two reasons. Firstly it has not been moved since it was erected in the 15th century and secondly it is a 'lantern' type structure (more common in the UK) rather than more common 'Celtic Cross'. In it's shadow many thousands of business deals have been struck with a handshake sealing the deal. An e-mail confirmation just isn't the same.
The cross itself is a kind of small 4-stepped pyramid with a face on one side showing St John and the Virgin Mary standing either side of Christ on the cross.
The rest of the upper section is carved with, among other things, a stag, a winged quadruped, fighting and other dog-like animals, an angel holding a long scroll, and two opposed jani (mythological quadrupeds with single horns which they could swivel around) with interlocked necks; - I don't remember them in the Gospel story !
I'm sure it's worth the visit
I set out the other day to spend a few hours in Athenry, it's always a town I had liked the look of, but never had the time to explore.
First stop was obviously the quite impressive three-story Norman castle built by Meiler de Bermingham, who was granted much of the lands of Connaught in 1235. Following an attack on the castle in 1316, town walls were erected.
Unfortunately being November it was shut until April.
It is certainly an impressive slab of a building which much have really established the reputation of the Norman Lord in the area back in the 13th century when the English were expanding their powerbase following the invasion under Henry II.
Finally got to visit in August 2010. Not a great deal to see, to be honest. Several floors to explore, but all lack furniture and /or interesting details.
Great if you about aged 6 and obsessed with knights and have an active imagination.
- Castles and Palaces
Drive through the North Gate
Athenry has generally regarded as one of the finest 'walled' town built in Ireland. Most of the walls and towers lay in various states of decay.
The North gate however still stands proud and as you exit the town the road drives straight through the structure. The tower also features a good example of a 'murder hole' aboove the gate.
I quite like this remarkably sharp picture from the early 20th century. Not much has changed, except the buildings to the left now form a pub.
- Castles and Palaces
Athenry Dominican Priory, Athenry.
Founded also around the same time as the castle just acros the park, Athenry Priory is the last home to Meiler de Bermingham, the Baron of Athenry who died in battle at Cashel and his body brought back and buried inside near the altar. The Priory was not finished before 1261 but suffered a fire in 1423 Reconstruction began almost straight away but never reached the heights before being named "Univerity for the Dominican Order" in 1644. But 8 years later, Oliver Cromwell and his troops passed that way and destroyed the Abbey. Another 150 years passed and the roof fell in and finally the tower went. It has been abandoned now for over 200 years, except for a while when it housed British soldiers.
The fourth photo shows the urn mounted on Lady Mathilda Birmingham's tomb. She died in 1788 and was the last in line of the Bi(e)rmingham family, descendant from the very first Mailer de Bermingham. On the urn is Lady Mathilda's medallion and is inscribed Coade of London 1791.
It is possible to just push the gate and enter the grounds, but not the inside. By the entrance ddor there is a plaque with the name and tel.no. if you really want to.
Athenry castle, Athenry.
Built by Meiler de Bermingham at the ford on the Clareen river, from where Athenry gets its name, the castle is one of the finest examples of 13th c tower houses or keeps in the country. It took two hundred years to get round to lifting it it to its present four stories including the attic surround by square type battlements more reminiscent of the Normanstyle.
The castle is only open for visits from Easter until roughly the end of October and days vary.
Easter to end Sept every day 10.00 - 18.00
October Mon - Thursday 10.00 - 17.00
Entrance is 3€ for adults with the usual concessions for seniors and students.
There is extensive car parking plus toilets, but no tearoom or restaurant.
The Market Cross,The Square, Athenry.
A short walk from the Priory is Market square where stands this unique 15th c monument, deemed a "cross" as it depicts the crucifixion scene, but looks more like a heap of rubble with the scene on top. Standing some 2.5 metres high this was where the market traders made their deals. Here is a link to a very good description of the cross, which makes any effort of mine look ridiculous, so if you want to go into the history of the Market Cross....
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