The following report details Athenry’s most historic buildings and landmarks. Sixth Class kindly provided the photographs for this page and have captured with impressive professionalism the beauty of our very special town.
The history of Athenry can be seen though its monuments. The earliest remaining building in the town is the castle, built at the ford by Meyler de Bermingham, around 1240.
Athenry Medieval Town walls
The Walls of Athenry are the finest medieval town walls remaining in Ireland with about two thirds of the walls remaining today. The walls are believed to have been built towards the end of the thirteenth century, enclosing an area of over 28 hectares. The walls were a boundary wall used to protect the town and for that reason are slightly more than a metre in thickness and four to five metres high. There was a moat surrounding the walls in the past which provided an additional defence, with the River Clarin being diverted to flow in to the moat. There were probably six gates and six towers on the walls; only the North Gate survives, known locally as ‘The Arch’. The walls were rebuilt of stone, the earlier walls being probably made of wood.
The Dominican Priory (The Abbey)
The Dominican Priory was built by the Anglo-Normans in 1241 and construction lasted for approximately 20 years. St Dominic is said to have asked for it to be built. Both the Native Irish and the colonising Anglo-Normans co-operated in sponsoring the construction work. Meiler De Bermingham who agreed on commisioning the building of the Dominican Priory died before the building was fully built. He died in 1252 in a battle near Cashel, Co Tipperary and his body was brought back to Athenry and buried near the high altar. Felim O’Connor, king of Connacht and founder of the Abbey of Roscommon built the refectory. Eugene O’ Heyne built the Dormitory. Cornelius O’Kelly built the chapter house. Walter Husgard built the cloisters, Arthur Mac Gallyly built the infirmary, Bernard O’ Trarasy and his wife built the guest house. In 1324 William De Bourgh and his wife Fionnula gave £66 towards building the front of the church the west end. In 1423 the Abbey was accidentally burned. Reconstrution work was set underway with the provision of indulgences for those who funded their repairs. In 1644 the Priory became a university for the Dominican order by the decree of a general Chapter in Rome. In 1652 Cromwells soldiers wrecked the Abbey. By 1792 the church was roofless and shortely afterwards the tower fell, finally reducing the building to a state of ruin. And still over 200 years later it’s still the same. The Priory contains much of note, particularly important being a fine collection of 17th century grace slabs and wall-plaques. Some of these are particularly interesting, notably the graves alb of John Burke and his wife which bears the date 12th October 1627 and also some fine interlaced work typical of the ‘Celtic Renaissance’.
The castle was commissioned by Meyler de Bermingham and built by the Normans in the early 1230s. It was designed to be a Norman stronghold. The building comprises a keep and a surrounding curtain wall or dawn. The original keep was low aims squat with the roof at the level of the second floor. In 1252, the cast was raised a further story and raised yet again in the 15th century as is evident from the gables at the top. Admission to the structure was by means of an external wooden staircase to the door at the first floor level. The ecclesiastical style of the Doorway and window decoration is through to be unique to Athenry Castle. The provision of a ledge over the castle entrance is also rare and probably afforded shelter from the dripping roof during the rain. The castle was damaged later on on different occasions and rebuilt in time. It is now open for public viewing on certain days.
The arch was originally built as one of the seven gateways into Athenry as a protection to the castle. It has battlements at the top as well as a place where soldiers used to stand. It is now forbidden to stand on it. There is a legend attached to this famous arch: One day a handsome man will walk under the arch and the arch will fall down on top of him!!
Things to Do and See in Athenry
The Park is situated next to Athenry Castle and it has a river called the river Clarin flowing through it. In the middle of the park there is a metal sculpture in memory of Padraic Fallon. It’s in the shape of ‘Pegasus’ the winged-horse. According to Greek Legend, the hero ‘Presses’ cut off the head of the monster ‘Medusa’ and there sprang from her body, a winged horse called Pegasus. The Greeks said that a blow from Pegasus’ hoof caused the fountain of Hippocrene, sacred to The Muses, to spring up on Mount Helicon. The story probably reached Greece through the ancient city of Corinth, many of whose coins bore a winged horse. Pegasus was the emblem chosen for British airborne troops in World War II. Padraic Fallon’s son unveiled the sculpture in 1997. The park has a seating arrangement at the back. It is circular in shape. It is suitable for relaxing on a hot summer’s day. There is a miniature version of the top of the castle near to the sculpture, and little children like to play in it. It has lots of nice, beautiful trees giving shade to the Pegasus sculpture. It also has four entrances and beautiful walls.
Lady’s Well is in Kingsland Athenry. When you go to Lady’s Well you will see all the beautiful flowers with pathways all leading up to this circle and in the middle of it there is a statue. If you walk father into it you will see some more gardens with benches. There is a statue of Mary and people light candles and say prayers. If you walk to your right you can go over to the Well. There is also another statue of Mary. Some people throw money into the Well, and also there is a statue of God our Father outside the Well. There are also wooden crosses to represent the stations of the cross. There is also a lovely stream too. The Well itself is surrounded by a wall. People walk around this and say the rosary. Every year on the 15th of August the feast of Assumption people get holy water and also a mass is held in Lady’s Well. This is known as Lady’s Day.
Athenry Heritage Centre
Athenry’s heritage centre was formerly the parish church of Athenry named St. Mary’s Collegiate Church. It was founded circa 1240. It became collegiate by the 1484. It was then destroyed by Clanricards sons. After this in 1828 the church was rebuilt with an elegant spire by the Church of Ireland. It was further renovated in 1987 by The Athenry Project Society. It was opened as Athenry Heritage Centre in 1999. This was achieved with funds from Galway County Council, Bord Fáilte and The European Union. This was coupled with fundraising by a number of local committees. Today it provides many activities and organized tours for people of all ages. On such tours you can relive Athenry as a medieval town through story and picture boards and audio-visual presentations. One can also dress in medieval clothes and handle reproduction Norman weaponry. You can then head outside and try ancient Irish games like horse shoe throwing or supervised archery with trained experts. Our heritage centre is a great addition to the town for tourists and an excellent chance for local people to see how our ancestors lived.
Sixth Class Projects on Medieval Athenry