Athlone Castle Visitor Centre
First built in the 12th century as a timber fort, Athlone Castle evolved into a bold, defensive building. Its most significant architectural features, such as the keep, have now been harnessed to act as a dramatic backdrop to its diverse and fascinating stories.
The first Siege of Athlone is one of these captivating tales. In 1690, following their victory at the River Boyne, the Williamites had effectively gained control of the eastern half of Ireland and the war continued. The River Shannon now became the key frontier, as the Jacobites held the vital strategic castles of Athlone and Limerick. In mid-July 1690, a 7,500 strong Williamite force, commanded by the Scottish General James Douglas, attacked Athlone. In 10 days the Williamites fired off 12,000 cannonballs, 600 bombs and ‘a great many ton of stones shot out of our mortars’. It was the heaviest bombardment in Irish history.
The castle was defended by 2,000 men, led by the experienced veteran; Colonel Richard Grace. He ordered the abandonment of the eastern part of Athlone Town, and withdrew his forces over the Shannon, and broke down the bridge behind him. When he was summoned to parley terms for surrender, he defiantly fired his pistol in the air and declared that was the only negotiation he wanted.
The Williamites lacked the necessary heavy siege artillery, and their field guns made little impression on the strong walls of the castle. Knowing that it would result in many casualties, General Douglas decided against trying to cross the river, and once he discovered that the defenders were to be reinforced, he lifted the siege and withdrew. The gallant defence of Athlone by Grace and his garrison, preserved the line and enabled the Jacobites to continue fighting the war for another year. For Athlone, the greatest test was yet to come.
This stories and many more fascinating accounts of Irish history are brought to life at Athlone Castle Visitor Centre. The eight newly designed exhibition spaces pursue both a chronological and thematic sequence combining hands-on and fun experiences that will appeal to both children and adults. Bold sculptural forms help to convey human figures and historical milestones. 3D maps, audio-visual installations and illustrations bring the stories and characters of Athlone to life