GPS Coordinates: 53.3000, -8.7444 | View On Google Maps ⇨
Athenry is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Ireland. The castle and surrounding town were built c.1235, by an Anglo-Norman lord named Meiler de Bermingham. Meiler encouraged the construction of houses, a market place, parish church and hospital in Athenry. The prosperous town soon attracted the attention of the native Irish, causing Athenry to be attacked by the O’Connors in 1249. The residents defeated the O’Connors, but demanded better town defences. So a murage grant was given to Athenry in 1310 for the construction of stone walls.
The towns surrounding walls measured 2,000m in length, contained 4-5 main gates, 1-3 postern gates and 1-2 inner gates. The closely-guarded gates allowed the movement of people and goods into the town, while the 6-8 towers, arrow loops, ramparts and fosse protected the walls from attack.
Unfortunately the walls could not stop the destruction of Athenry in 1574 by the sons of the Earl of Clanricard. The English tried to rebuild Athenry’s walls but before they were finished, the Earl’s sons returned. They destroyed the town, drove away the masons and set fire to its newly built gates. In 1596 the town was captured again and destroyed by Red Hugh O’Donnell in the ‘Nine Years War’. Athenry then fell into decline and almost fossilised, which is why most of Athenry’s medieval street plan and 70% of the masonry town walls survive.
When visiting Athenry today, start at the Athenry Heritage Centre, which is set amongst the ruins of a 13th century church and graveyard. You can try your hand at archery, dress up as a knight or simply explore the past through its interactive displays. The centre is also home to the town’s mace and seal, the finest example of their kind in Ireland.
Immediately outside the heritage centre are the remains of a 15th century lantern market cross, the only one in its original position in Ireland. The tradition of having a market in Athenry continues every Friday, local farmers and artisan food producers still come into the town to sell their wares.
You can also explore the restored 13th century Athenry Castle, one of the arched gateways into the town, five of Athenry’s defensive towers and the ruins of a 13th century Dominican Priory, where the best view of the town walls can be seen.