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Ireland Gazeteer

Athlone in 1835

ATHLONE, a borough in Ireland, of considerable importance from its situation on the river Shannon, and on the principal road which connects the metropolis with the western province of Connaught. It is about 75 or 76 miles from Dublin, nearly due west.

The name Athlone is supposed to be a somewhat altered form of the Celtic Ath Luain —Moon-Ford, or Ford of the Moon, the town being situated at a ford over the Shannon.

Athlone is in three parishes: St. Peter and Kiltoom, in the barony of Athlone, in the county of Roscommon and province of Connaught; and St. Mary, in the barony of Brawney, in the county of Westmeath and province of Leinster.

These parishes are separated from each other by the river Shannon, St. Peter and Kiltoom being west of that river, and St. Mary east of it.

The two parts of the town are united by a bridge of nine arches, built at the ford already noticed. This bridge is only twelve feet wide, and, in consequence of this narrowness of the passage, is a scene of great confusion in times when the occurrence of a fair or a market causes any increase in the ordinary traffic.

Nearly in the centre of this bridge is a stone monument, erected in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, whose arms occupy one of the compartments.

There are besides this four other bridges in the parish of St. Peter, three of which are over a canal, cut at the back of the town with the view of preserving the line of navigation of the Shannon, which had been interrupted by the ford and the bridge over that river.

The town is chiefly composed of strong stone houses, and has been long fortified. The walls and fortifications, which had been suffered to go to decay, have been strengthened anew within the last few years, and the works are mounted with many guns of various calibre.

The citadel or castle, which has been repaired in a more modern style of fortification, commands the bridge and the river.

The town is very irregularly built, neither the straightness of the streets, the proportional height of the houses, nor the uniformity of fronts, having been attended to.

Athlone has no public buildings of any importance except the Sessions-house, where the quarter-sessions are held; and the new barracks, so close to the town as to be considered part of it. Here is accommodation for 2,000 men; and attached to it are magazines, armoury, ordnance yard, depot of military stores, and hospital.

Before the magazines in the present barracks were built, the barracks and magazine of the garrison were in the castle; but the magazine was blown up in 1697, having taken fire by lightning. Athlone is one of the chief military stations and depots for arms in Ireland.

Besides the places of worship of the Establishment, there is a large Romish chapel in St. Peter's parish, and a preaching-house in St. Mary's parish, supported by the Irish Baptist Society; in which last a free school also is taught. There is in the town a charter-school; also free schools in the barracks and in the Franciscan convent.

The manufacture of felt hats has long been carried on here, and the town has some celebrity for its felts. Friezes are manufactured, and some linens are woven.

There are two breweries; one of them very extensive. Athlone is well situated for trade, having the advantage of the Shannon, which is navigable thirty-eight miles farther up: and also of the Grand Canal, which communicates with Dublin, and joins the Shannon seventeen miles below Athlone.

There are three market days in the week, and the markets are well supplied with sea and river fish, vegetables, and meat.

There are four fairs; two held in virtue of the charter of the corporation. These two appear to be held in the parish of St. Peter, the others in that of St. Mary.

The town has a corporation created by James I, consisting of a sovereign, two bailiffs, twelve burgesses, and an unlimited number of freemen.

The corporation can by their charter hold a court every three weeks for the recovery of small debts not exceeding five pounds; and the sovereign can decide summarily for any debt not exceeding five shillings.

The corporation is also authorized to hold a court of pie-poudre for administering justice in case of injuries done during the fairs.

The borough sent two members to the Irish parliament; but since the Union it has returned only one.

Athlone was rendered conspicuous in the Irish war which ensued upon the revolution of 1688. After the battle of the Boyne in 1690, it was held for King James by Colonel Richard Grace, formerly chamberlain to that prince when Duke of York.

While King William invested Limerick in person, he detached General Douglas to besiege Athlone. The eastern part of the town, called the English Town, was evacuated and burnt by Colonel Grace, who broke down some arches of the bridge and strengthened the western part (or Irish Town) of Athlone with new works.

Douglas summoned him to surrender; but Grace, firing a pistol at the messenger, said, 'These are my terms, and these only will I give or receive; and after my provisions are consumed, I will defend the town till I eat my old boots.' After battering the walls, the besieging army broke up and retired.

The year following (1691), Athlone was again attacked by General Ginkell; who, after taking possession of the English Town, determined to force the passage of the river by fording, and to storm the Irish Town.

The garrison had been weakened by St. Ruth (King James's Commander-in-chief) forcing Colonel Grace to exchange the three tried regiments of foot, with which he had the year before defended the town, for three inferior ones in St. Ruth's army, and the attempt of Ginkell was successful with very trifling loss on the part of the assailants.

The town was taken, the governor fell in the assault, and the army under St. Ruth, which was encamped in the neighbourhood, retreated to Aghrim, where it was in a few days entirely defeated by Ginkell, who received for his services in this war the title of Earl of Athlone. The title still remains in the family.

The population of the borough of Athlone was, in 1831, 11,406; but the whole population of the three parishes of St. Peter, Kiltoom, and St. Mary was 19,661. Nearly all speak English and Irish; but the vernacular language seems to be on the decline. The inhabitants maintain many ancient customs.

The parish of St. Mary is a rectory and vicarage in the diocese of Meath; that of Kiltoom a vicarage ecclesiastically united with the vicarage of Camma, both in the diocese of Elphin; that of St. Peter is a perpetual curacy, also in the diocese of Elphin.

The river Shannon supplies a variety of fish. Pike, trout, bream, a few salmon in the season, perch, and eels, are taken; the two latter in great abundance. Eels are sent in considerable quantity to Dublin.