Athenry in County Galway, Ireland, is a great place to explore medieval Ireland.
The town is a great example for how the coming of the Normans impacted on architecture in Ireland: The Normans introduced the concept of fortified towns. The town features one of the best preserved medieval town walls in the country.
Around 70 percent of the heavily fortified impressive town wall remains intact.
This includes a couple of the forbidding watchtowers, plus the North Gate seen above which features a ‘murdering hole’ or ‘poll na marbha’.
You can spend an afternoon just walking around the small town of Athenry taking in the leftovers of its’ medieval glory days.
Among the attractions are a prominent town wall, an imposing castle, a medieval Dominican Priory, the oldest market cross in Ireland still left at its’ original location, and a heritage centre that brings medieval Athenry to life. See us on the photo below all dressed up at the heritage centre!
Local history is celebrated in the Athenry medieval festival which takes place annually in early August.
The town is on the Dublin to Galway train line. There are buses from Galway (Bus Eireann and Farrell Travel). By car, the town can be reached via the M6 Dublin to Galway motorway where it has its’ own exit (number 17), or by smaller roads, depending on where you are coming from; on the R347 from Tuam or Craughwell, or the R348 from Oranmore.
The name of the town derives from the Irish Baile Átha an Rí, 'The town of the ford of the king.' It is built on the ford or crossing over the river Clarin.
The town was founded by the Norman De Berminghams when Peter De Bermingham was awarded lands by the King of England following the Norman invasion of Ireland. In 1244 his son, Meiler, the first lord of Athenry, was granted the right to hold a weekly market here on Thursdays as well as an eight day annual fair.The market cross seen below is still a place where people are likely to gather. Local man Seamus Lynch is explaining the history of the cross in this photo.
He became the patron of a Dominican Priory founded here in 1241. The Irish of Connacht attempted to re-conquer the lands in 1249 and again in 1316, but were defeated on both occasions due to the superior weaponry of the Normans.
Over time, the Normans became integrated and many started speaking Irish as well as their native tongues of French and Welsh, although they did remain the overloards laying claim to the lands and demanding dues from the Irish.
The town lost in importance by the late fifteen hundreds. In 1567 there were only twenty householders recorded by Sir Henry Sidney on an area of no less than 69 acres where once there were 300. The town was attacked on two occasions by neighbouring Normans, the Clanricardes, in 1574, and 1577. It was finally destroyed by Red Hugh O’Donnell in 1596. Only the town wall and any stone buildings survived. It seems that the town was depopulated after that, as in 1683 it was described by John Dunton as: “A poor miserable place, full of cabins and several ruined stone houses and castles.”
A segment of the town wall seen here with a watch tower.
We recommend a stroll around the medieval streets taking in
the sights listed above with all the facts about them here.
We recommend a stroll around the medieval streets taking in the sights listed above with all the facts about them here.
We recommend a visit to the heritage centre located at Saint Mary's church for a family visit, but advance booking is advisable. (+353 (0)91 844661+353 (0)91 844661+353 (0)91 844661353 (0)91 844661). There is a medieval dress up on offer as well as archery. It will make your experience complete, the kids will be happy, and it is a great photo opportunity, too.
If you happen to visit County Galway in early August, plan a visit to the Athenry Medieval Festival which brings medieval traditions alive with costumes, games, performances and music. The kids will love it!
If I was travelling around Ireland, personally, I would make a visit to the town a day trip from Galway (We looove Galway!) other than during the medieval festival in early August when the town will have a special buzz.
But if you want to stay there is one outstanding B and B I must mention, Caheroyan House, a short walk from the town centre, which is a genuine country manor set in lovely gardens. They grow their own organic vegetables, and there is a tennis court, and fishing is an option. The town does not have a hostel. If you are hostel hopping, it will have to be Galway.
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