Medieval Ireland comes alive in the town of Athenry in
County Galway, Ireland once a year at the medieval festival in early August.
festival brings back medieval traditions and practices such as sword fights,
shooting with bow and arrow or the cross bow, the ritual of striking deals at
market, or medieval music and dance. The festival is well worth a visit that the whole
family would enjoy if you happen to be around at the right time.
See us here bound together in this board for 7 days and 7 nights as a punishment for arguing inflicted by Benedictine of the Athenry Heritage Centre. You could call it medieval marriage counselling... We have decided not to argue again!
Any other time of year, enjoy the medieval sights of the
town taking them in on a stroll, and do visit the heritage centre in Saint Mary's Church (booking
recommended) for a medieval dress-up experience, archery and more.
The stone carved Market Cross of Athenry is the oldest
market cross in Ireland still situated in its’ original position, on the market
square. It replaced an earlier, wooden cross in the same location. It’s shaft
went missing leaving only the base and cross itself. Unfortunately the 15th
century cross stone is badly deteriorated, but one can just about make out the
carvings. One side features a crucifixion scene, and the back a Madonna and
child. Originally it was 9 foot tall and must have been an imposing sight. Medieval Ireland had a lot of these market crosses but very few have survived.
Traditionally, the cross was the central place in the town
and bargains struck at market were sealed here. People still like to gather
here and sit on the steps below.
The North Gate is the only surviving out of originally four
town gates. The gate is a great example of a well-functioning fortification.
is a tall, strong tower with an inbuilt murdering hole, from which hot liquids
or rocks could be released onto unwelcome visitors as a last line of defense. It
must have been an intimidating to look at for anyone approaching the town back in the
The building and maintenance of the walls and gates was
financed from taxes paid by market traders.
That explains how it was possible
to make ongoing improvements of these structures over the centuries. The
present gate dates to the 16th century.The walls frame an area of no less than 69 acres. The town walls are
about four foot wide and fourteen foot tall. They feature a walk way at the top
aided by a small parapet wall on the top where guards could move along.
The remarkably well-preserved town wall of Athenry, County Galway, Ireland held out through two significant battles in medieval Ireland that took place in its very shadow.
along the wall, you will find a lot of sections that are still intact including
some almost windowless watch towers. These towers have entrances from either
side of the adjoining wall sections. Inside, there are rooms with loop windows
splaying towards the inside designed to shoot arrows through at anyone
attacking the town.
The priory was financed by the De Bermingham's. It
was constructed between 1220 and 1241 bringing together Norman and Irish
The most unique piece of history of the priory is that in 1644 it
was turned into Ireland’s first university. Cromwellian soldiers however, destroyed the building after it was
turned into a garrison in 1652. Only a ruin remains these days. A local man
holds the keys and can be contacted by phone to let visitors in.
Medieval Ireland was full of castles as every war lord or land owner needed their own fortification. Imposing Athenry Castle seen above was built by the De Bermingham's who were Norman war lords. The castle has been beautifully reconstructed
under the care of the Office of Public Works. The castle is a Norman tower house which was probably
of predominantly military function. The build started in 1235 and was extended
a couple of times over the centuries making it a very tall structure. At an entrance
fee of 3 Euros, the castle is well worth visiting. A fifteen minute
audio-visual presentation pulls together the story of the Normans in County
Galway and that alone is worthwhile. Find out more facts about features of the castle here.
Athenry Town Tourist Information
The Norman Invasion
Norman Castles- why and how fortify?
Medieval Castle Vocabulary
How to build a medieval castle
How to defend a medieval castle
How to attack an Irish castle
The Heritage centre really ‘makes’ Athenry for the tourist.
The centre offers a medieval experience guided by friendly and ever so helpful
staff that involves dressing up in fantasy homemade medieval costumes. Visitors
will be shown torture instruments and weapons found here at Athenry, (replicas of
course) and there is a demonstration on how each of those was used (not for
ladies). There is archery in the garden with trained instructors. School tours
will be given the opportunity to stage a medieval play. And there is a photo
opportunity when you’re all dressed up- one for the family album for sure.
See the stocks in action (left) at the heritage centre, a common punishment in medieval Ireland for minor offenses such as not keeping to deals struck at the market. The photo on the right shows one of the displays at the centre, a lady emptying her chamber pot into the streets below. Nice one.
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