History and Heritage in Athenry!

Athenry – 24km east of Galway City – has a past that goes back several millennia as can be seen from the Stone Age axes and Bronze Age spear heads and shields found in the area.

The region also featured prominently in the early Christian history of Tysaxon – the house of the Saxon – a monastic settlement founded by Balan who came to Ireland with St. Coleman after the Synod of Whitby (664) – having direct links with the monastic settlements in Iona, Lindisfarne, Boffin, Mayo-Abbey and Tullylease.  The area played an important part in Irish history. The river ford which gives Athenry its name – Baile Atha ‘n Ri – (Ri meaning river) is where the east west route along the Esker Riada crosses the most westerly direct route north south. It played a similar role in more recent times when Athenry became the main east west, north south junction in the railway network.

However it is only with the coming of the Anglo Normans in the late 12th century that medieval Athenry really began to exist as a town. In 1178 the title Baron of Athenry was created for Piers de Bermingham making it the primary Baronacy of Ireland well before 1235 when Richard de Burgo of Connacht granted a charter to Meiler de Bermingham, 2nd Baron of Athenry, who founded the actual town.  Meiler de Bermingham built the Castle overlooking the ford, a fine town with a market square, a parish church and a few years later the Dominican Priory of SS. Peter and Paul.  That the ford was important to the Irish also was perhaps to be seen from what is the earliest history reference to the town – namely the attack by the O’Connors in 1249 when the Irish were beaten by the Norman cavalry.

Excerpt from “Athenry, A Brief History” by Finbar O’Regan