ATHLONE, a market-town of Co. Westmeath, Ireland, on both banks of the Shannon. Pop. of urban district (1901) 6617. The urban district, under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1900, is wholly in county Westmeath, but the same area is divided by the Shannon between the parliamentary divisions of South Westmeath and South Roscommon. Athlone is 78 m. W. from Dublin by the Midland Great Western railway, and is also served by a branch from Portarlington of the Great Southern & Western line, providing an alternative and somewhat longer route from the capital. The main line of the former company continues W. to Galway, and a branch N.W. serves counties Roscommon and Mayo. The Shannon divides the town into two portions, known as the Leinster side (east), and the Connaught side (west), which are connected by a handsome bridge opened in 1844. There is a swivel railway bridge. The rapids of the Shannon at this point are obviated by means of a lock communication with a basin, which renders the navigation of the river practicable above the town. The steamers of the Shannon Development Company ply on the river, and some trade by water is carried on with Limerick, and with Dublin by the river and the Grand and Royal canals. Athlone is an important agricultural centre, and there are woollen factories. The salmon fishing both provides sport and is a source of commercial wealth. There are two parish churches, St Mary and St Peter, both erected early in the 19th century, of which the first has near it an isolated church tower of earlier date. There are three Roman Catholic chapels, a court-house and other public offices. Early remains include portions of the castle, of the town walls (1576), of the abbey of St Peter and of a Franciscan foundation. On several islands of the picturesque Lough Ree, to the north, are ecclesiastical and other remains.
The military importance of Athlone dates from the erection of the castle and of a bridge over the river by John de Grey, bishop of Norwich and justiciar of Ireland, in 1210. It became the seat of the presidency of Connaught under Elizabeth, and withstood a siege by the insurgents in 1641. In the war of 1688 the possession of Athlone was considered of the greatest importance, and it consequently sustained two sieges, the first by William III. in person, which failed, and the second by General Godart van Ginkel (q.v.), who, on the 30th of June 1691, in the face of the Irish, forded the river and took possession of the town, with the loss of only fifty men. Ginkel was subsequently created earl of Athlone, and his descendants held the title till it became extinct in 1844. In 1797 the town was strongly fortified on the Roscommon side, the works covering 15 acres and containing two magazines, an ordnance store, an armoury with 15,000 stands of arms and barracks for 1500 men. The works are now dismantled. Athlone was incorporated by James I., and returned two members to the Irish parliament, and one member to the imperial parliament till 1885.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)