Athlone – the origin of the name
In the earliest times Athlone was known as An Sean-Ath Mor (The great ford of antiquity). Here is the story of how it got its name. At the close of the first century a man called Luan lived beside the ford. He kept a hostelry here. He also acted as a guide to travellers who had to venture across the river.
In time the place came to be known by his name Athlone – Ath Luain (the ford of Luan).
The historical importance of Athlone
Athlone was recognised down through the centuries as an important crossing point on the River Shannon. The first bridge was built there by Turlough O’Connor, the king of Connacht, in 1129. The first stone bridge was built in 1210 at the same time as the first castle. Athlone was attacked twice during the Jacobite-Williamite war in Ireland because it controlled the only crossing point into Connacht, which was under Jacobite control.
Background to the Jacobite – Williamite War
James II was King of England. He was not popular because he was a Catholic. He gave a lot of important jobs to Catholics. The Protestants did not like this. He was overthrown and the throne was offered to his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange (Ruler of Holland). James fled to France.
James gathered an army in France and set sail for Ireland. He was hoping the Irish Catholics would help him to win back his throne. In 1689 he landed in Kinsale with 400 French soldiers. Among them was the famous Irish soldier Patrick Sarsfield who led the Jacobites in the Siege of Limerick.
William of Orange and his army ( Williamites) landed on Co. Down in 1690. They marched south towards Dublin and James’s Army (Jacobites) marched to meet them. The met at the River Boyne and the Battle of the Boyne took place. The Williamites won the Battle and the Jacobites fled to Dublin. On July 12th every year a group of Protestants called Orangemen march in Northern Ireland to celebrate this battle.
The Siege of Athlone
The first attack on Athlone was led by William of Orange in 1690, soon after the battle of the Boyne, but he was driven off. There was more to come. In June 1691 Athlone was attacked by the full Williamite army led by Ginkel. They quickly captured the Leinster side and bombed the Connacht side. Marshal St. Ruth, the leader of the Jacobites, decided to destroy the bridge across the river to stop the enemy from crossing into Connacht.
Ten men led by a Sergent called Custume rushed forward to tear down the bridge. When they were shot down, others took their place. Custume’s brave actions only delayed Ginkel for a short while. Later, a suprise attack across the ford caught the Jacobites by surprise and Athlone was captured. Custume’s bravery led to Athlone barracks being named after him.
Athlone castle is the oldest building in the town of Athlone. It was build to defend the ford of Athlone whitch is an important crossing point on the river Shannon. The earliest castle of Athlone was a wooden structure built by Turlough O’Connor in 1129. In 1210 John de Gray ,Bishop of Norwich ,built a stone castle there for King John of England. In the 16th century,it was the home of the president of Connacht.