Athlone lies in the centre of Ireland with the River Shannon flowing right through it's heart. The Shannon is Ireland's longest river and almost completely divides the country in half separating the east of Ireland from the west. From ancient times Athlone has been a significant crossing point over the river. It is this significance, as a place from which the river could be forded or crossed safely, that has underpinned the town's long history and current growth and development.
By the 10th century the town was known in Irish as Atha Luain which means the Ford of Luain. It is thought Luain kept a hostelry on the bank of the river beside Athlone Castle and also provided a fording across the river's rapids to travellers. The Irish name 'Atha Luain' was gradually anglicised to 'Athlone' over the centuries.
Located on the western side of the river Athlone Castle and the original tradition of service for travellers provided by Luain still remains. The area is called Athlone's Left Bank when actually it's on the right bank of the river! It is this kind of quirkiness which makes a visit to Athlone's old town worthwhile. You can avail of a drink in 'Sean's Bar' which has been confirmed to be the oldest bar in Ireland. And yes, you can still ply the great river just as in the time of Luain. Michael McDonnell's Viking Boat Tours take's people northwards up onto Lough Ree and southwards to the ancient monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise every day. And it is in this part of the town that my shop is located!
There is a lot to experience in this town. So, don't just cross the river and travel on but rather, stop and stay awhile and discover why the town has been here for over a thousand years!