Follow the course of the River Shannon from Lough Ree through Athlone town and downstream past Clonmacnoise, Shannon Bridge, Shannon Harbour, Banagher and visit more inland towns such as Birr and it's might Telescope or Clonert and the old cathedral.
The River Shannon which divides the town - is a major attraction, offering fishing and boating experiences.
Athlone Town South Athlone
The first known bridge across the River Shannon in Athlone was built in the 12th century by the King of Connaught. The bridge was of a wooden construction.
After building a bridge, the next problem was to defend it from the local tribes and warlords. The lords of Meath preferred to keep the Connaught kings isolated across the river and successively attacked both bridge and castle. As the first castle was poorly defended and constructed it was destroyed a number of times throughout the century.
In the 13th century Athlone was recognised for its strategic importance and held prominence with Dublin.
South of the town is a weir, constructed in the 19th century to help control flooding on the river.
There is a fully operational lock on the west side of the weir. A number of salmon leaps have been built into the weir so perhaps if there at the right time of year you may see the salmon heading upstream to spawn.
South of the town the river meanders over flat country side, the next point of interest is the monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise.
Today Athlone is an important town and is being developed as the central town of the region. It has a number of fine hotels, restaurants.
Athlone Town South
Athlone Town, North
You can take a river cruise from beside the bridge, which will take you up river into Lough Ree, and tour about the lake returning after about 2 hours. The cruise runs during the summer and some week-ends throughout the year . So best check times in advance.
Many barges are moored along the river banks and can be seen making their way up and down stream. Cruise boats can be hired for week-ends or weeks from a number of local operators.
>A metal railway bridge spans the river just to the north. The railway came to the town in the 1850s – connecting Dublin and Galway.
With faster trains and continuous rail, journey times by train to the capital have been reduced significantly.A motorway now links Athlone to directly to Dublin with journey times of less than an hour. The motorway continues to Galway – so visitors could overnight in Athlone and then easily visit Galway and the West or alternatively Dublin and the East.
Athlone Town, North
Athlone's Old Town
Built in the shadow of Athlone Castle, the old town though small, is a vibrant place, hosting what maybe Ireland's oldest pub.
Built in the shadow of Athlone Castle, the old town though small, is a vibrant place, hosting what maybe Ireland's oldest pub – Sean's Bar.The castle in former times protected the important crossing of the river Shannon.
It dates back to the 13th century, when the castle was commissioned by King John of England. Later during the sieges of Athlone 1690 and 1691 the castle was attacked and badly damaged.During the Napoleonic period, the castle was extensively fortified.
The castle is now a museum, which has many historical artefacts from the region and a number of media presentations, including the life and times of John McCormack.
Athlone's Old Town
The castle on the est side of the river was built in 1210 to defend the crossing the ford. It was later re-constructed during the Napoleonic Wars. The castle is open to visitors.
Just a few miles down river from Athlone is the monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise. The settlement dates back to St. Ciaran who founded the first monastery in 546.
Clonmacnoise was founded in the 540s AD by St. Ciaran who was the son of a craftsman. Clonmacnoise being almost in the centre of Ireland, attracted pilgrims for almost 1500 years.
The site contains churches dating from the 10th to the 17th century, a round tower, stone crosses and many grave slabs dating back hundreds of years.
The earlier churches which were built of wood have long disappeared.
The site declined in importance from the 13th century and was reduced to ruin in the 1552 by the English soldiers stationed in Athlone.
Churches and Crosses.
Within the site there are a number of churches -- Temple Dowling was named after Edmund Dowling who extended it in 1689. This church is built close to Temple Hurpan, built around 1705.
The south cross stood on a site close to the Dowling church since the 900s. Temple Melaghlin lies a little further east and is associated with the Melaghlin family the descendants of the kings of Meath.
The smallest church is supposedly where St. Ciaran was buried. The largest church is the Cathedral originally built by the King of Tara, though it was greatly extended in 1450 by Odo the dean of Clonmacnoise at the time.
Churches and Crosses.
The three crosses now stand in the visitor centre and replicas on their original sites. The Cross of the Scriptures made from a single piece of sandstone was made around the 900s. It stands almost 4 metres in height .
There are carved panels on the shaft depicting scenes from the Crucifixion, Last Judgement, and Christ in the Tomb.
The south cross is just less than 4 metres in height and decorated in abstract art though it has a crucifixion scene on the shaft.Only the shaft and base remain of the north cross. It dates to the 800s AD and is carved with decorative art and animal shapes.
As the River Shannon bases Clonmacnoise it runs through peat and bog land. With the river access and it's location in the centre of Ireland Clonmacnoise developed as an important centre.
The area around the river floods regularly and is called the Callows.
South of Clonmacnoise
Below the monastic settlement there are a number of small villages, river crossings, castles and churches which are worth visiting.
Shanonbridge South of Clonmacnoise
The bridge was built in 1757. Due to it's location on the river the village was heavily fortified during the Napoleonic Wars.
The fort on the west side of the river was built by Martello - of Martello Tower fame. The village now offers tourist amenities such as restaurants, pubs and some accommodation.
Shannon Harbour was built in 1830 at the point where the Grand Canal joins the River Shannon. The harbour is a thriving location during summer with leisure craft constantly to and froing to the Shannon.
Clonony Castle was built in the 1500s. It was given to the father of An Boleyn by Henry the VIII. Mary and Elizabeth Boleyn, second cousins to Queen Elizabeth I, lived out their lives in this castle and their tombstone still stands on the castle grounds.
The castle is open for viewing and is being carefully restored.
Banagher has been a strategic crossing off the River Shannon since early times. The river at this point seldom flooded, making it crossable all year round.
The town has a number of historical buildings including a Martello Tower.
The monastic site at Clonfert on which the current cathedral stands was supposedly founded by Brendan the Navigator in the 6th century.
The current building dates back to the 13th century and the doorway is part of the original 13th century edifice.
Just north of the town of Athlone lies Lough Ree - the lough is navigable and provides excellent fishing opportunities.
Lough Ree Lough Ree
Lough Ree, stretches from Lanesboro in the north to just above Athlone in the South – a distance or about 30km. It is the second largest lake on the River Shannon, covering about 10,000 Ha.
There are numerous islands and islets dotted throughout the lake. A number of them have been inhabited over time. The remains of monastic settlements can still be seen on Inish Turk, Inish Bofin and Inish More. Inish Turk is a national monument. These islands can be visited by cruise or motorboat. The lake is well developed for fishing, with plenty of stock of trout and course fish such as pike.
Around the shores of the lake there are a numerous slipways for launching boats from trailers.
Both at Hudson Bay and Cresson there are large car parks with picnic areas and toilets.Major efforts have been made to develop and expand the lake as an angling amenity. Wild trout stocks have increased significantly due to improved water quality.
There are a number of cruise boat operators based along the lough offering short and long term letting of excellent and well equipped boats
Birr Castle and town have been associated with Astronomy since 1845 when the Leviathan telescope was built.
Birr Castle Birr
Birr Castle is the home of the Seventh Earl of Rosse. The grounds of the estate are open to the public while the castle is private.
The earls are members of the Parson family. There has been a castle on the grounds since the 12th century.
The third Earl of Rosse, built the large telescope, which at the time was the largest in the world, capable of looking further into space than any other. The castle and town of Birr became a centre for astronomy and visitors came to view the night sky from all over the world. The 4th Earl continued the astronomy tradition and is credited with measuring the heat of the moon.
After his death, the telescope fell into disrepair, the mirror was sent to the London museum and later the metal structure was melted for use in the First World War. The telescope structure fell further into decay until the Irish Government supported it’s restoration in the 1990s.
The town of Birr while dating back to about the early 17th century and was developed during the Georgian period around the 1740s.
Quite a number of these Georgian buildings still line Emmet Square and Emmet Street.
The column in the centre of the square which had a figure of the Duke of Cumberland, dates to 1747. Oxmantown Mall constructed around 1805 was laid out as a tree lined avenue leading from the castle to the Church of Ireland.
The avenue is lined by Georgian houses on the north and stands of sycamore trees on the south sides.