The Bottom Line
This is a military installation first and foremost - and Athlone Castle lets the visitor be sure about this. At first glance all notions of a romantic, fairy-tale castle are dispelled. At second glance you realize that the protection of the important Shannon crossing is the reason for the castle to be here. And it certainly looks fit for this task even today - though the new Athlone bridge further away might tempt any possible invader.
But the castle's strategic loss is the visitor's gain, the surrounding streets inviting to a walk.
- Stout defensive structure towering above (and dominating) the Shannon crossing.
- Museum contains several diverse sections of local and historical interest.
- Fine views of Shannon and Athlone Town.
- No real history of the castle itself tangible.
- Transparencies in audio-visual presentations need to be renewed.
- Athlone Castle started off as a typical medieval motte-and-bailey castle, strategically located on the Shannon.
- Several rebuilds and extensions almost totally obscure the medieval origins.
- Today's castle is essentially a fortification from Napoleonic times with earlier foundations.
- Surrounding town of Athlone provides picturesque walks.
Guide Review - Athlone Castle (County Westmeath)
One word of warning is appropriate - Athlone Castle has been rebuilt so many times that it is no longer a medieval stronghold, today it is more of a defensive fortress from the Napoleonic era.
A treasure for military historians, a minor disappointment for romantics. Until 1970 the castle was still used by the Irish army ... Athlone has been a garrison town for more than 300 years now and still has the oldest functioning barracks in Europe (dating from 1697).
The museum in the castle is surprisingly short on the history of the fortress itself ...
but as if to make up for this there are several quite distinct sections following on from a brief introduction to Athlone Town:
- The Siege of Athlone
The abortive siege of 1690 and the successful siege of 1691 by Willamite troops forms the most rousing parts - with a well put-together audio-visual presentation and some life-size waxworks.
- The Military History of Athlone
A room dedicated to Irish soldiers through the ages, again using life-sized dummies.
- John Count McCormack
The life and career of Athlones famous son, tenor John McCormack (1884-1945) is highlighted, complete with a waxwork bursting into song.
- The Story of the Shannon
An exhibition highlighting Ireland's important waterway.
A slight disappointment may be created by the visual material presented, however - many transparencies have visible aged, lost color and should be replaced urgently.