The town’s name is derived from Irish. However, there is some dispute over its translation. Átha an Rí could mean ‘Ford of the Kings’ or simply ‘River Ford’.
The town still celebrates the Lady Day Festival, which commemorates the Battle of Athenry in 1249 in which the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to the defeated Irish troops.
Begun in 1241, the Dominican Priory was founded by Meiler de Bermingham for the benefit of the townspeople.
The town was granted a murage grant from Henry II to build its town walls.
During the 1916 Rising about 500 rebels armed with 25 rifles, 60 revolvers, 300 shotguns and 60 pikes gathered in Athenry. However, the rebel position at Athenry was exposed and open to attack, and so the rebels retreated to Moyode Castle and Lime park, to the south of the town. The Galway rising later petered out with little resistance.
The castle is the oldest structure in the town. The base building was probably completed shortly before 1240.
Recorded in 1979, the folk ballad ‘The Fields of Athenry’ is a terrace anthem of Irish, Celtic and Liverpool football supporters. Its subject matter is a fictional 19th century man called Michael who is caught stealing food for his family and is sentenced to transportation to Australia.
2008 World Athletics 200m silver medalist Paul Hession hails from the town.