Athlone is a relatively large town on the River Shannon near the southern shore of Lough Ree, and less than 9 km from the geographical centre of Ireland. It has areas in county Roscomon and county Westmeath and boasts all the scenery of a waterside town, as well as a modern feel and plenty of shopping! Indeed it is sometimes described as the commercial capital of the Irish midlands.
Historically the fording point at Athlone was strategically important as the River Shannon formed an uncrossable barrier both north and south of the town for many miles.
In the 12th century a bridge was built across the Shannon, along with a fort to protect it. This was a wise decision as the bridge was a focal point of many attacks in subsequent years. The building was added to and replaced by a stone structure in 1210. The Siege of Athlone during a war between Catholic King James II and Protestant King William of Orange saw largescale damage to the castle and it was rebuilt and expanded in the years after the conflict. The bridge meanwhile was replaced in the 19th century and this structure is still in place today, with some modifications to the original.
As well as a rich history and a multitiude of retail outlets, there are three theatres in Athlone, a school of music and a literary festival. The river and lakes in the area are popular with anglers, birdwatchers, swimmers and sailing enthusiasts. Athlone also has the distinction of Sean's Bar, recognised by Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest pub in Europe.