The medieval town of Athenry began its life with the building of a castle by Meyler de Bermingham, in 1238.
The Castle consists of a towering Keep surrounded by a curtain wall with three towers, one rectangular and two round.
The Keep was basically a castle within a castle where the lord and his family lived. The river Clarin on the East side of the castle fed a wet ditch or moat encircling it.
The Keep originally consisted of two storeys, the great hall and the basement. Within a few years another storey was added. In the 15th century the gable ends were raised and a new roof was fitted. Access was through a door on the first floor level on the East side which had a external stairs.
In 1241 Meyler de Bermingham gave land to the Dominican Order and had the Priory of SS Peter and Paul built a few hundred yards South of the castle. The priory was enlarged in 1324, and rebuilt in 1427 after a fire engulfed it. It became a University in 1644.
Saint Mary’s Parish Church
The Parish Church, was once thought to be the Franciscan Friary, stands in the grounds of the old Protestant Church a few hundred yards from the castle. It is now the site of the Heritage Centre. It was built in the middle of the 13th century and totally destroyed in 1574.
The Market Cross
This is a 15th century Lantern or Tabernacle type of Cross which was used to seal bargains at the weekly market in the town. It is to be found in the Town Square.
The Town Walls
Athenry was walled in the early 14th century. It is said that the walls were built from the booty collected after the Battle of Athenry in 1316, in which the Anglo-Norman army of Richard de Burgo and Meyler de Bermingham defeated the Irish forces led by Felim O’Connor. This battle effectively destroyed the Irish resistance to the Anglo-Normans.
Most of the original town wall, which is surrounded by a moat, is still standing with 5 of it’s 6 towers. Of it’s 5 gates only the North Gate, or The Arch as it is locally known, remains.
One of the great attraction of the town walls is that they can be viewed at a distance, especially on the South and East side of the town. This feature, more than any other, gives Athenry it’s unmistakable sense of history, evoking memories of a busy Medieval town.