Athlone Castle,
County Westmeath

Athlone used to be one of the most formidable medieval fortresses in Ireland, but warfare and substantial rebuilding have left little of the old castle above internal ground level. The construction of both a bridge and castle at this key river crossing began in 1210, following King John's visit to Ireland, when Bishop Henry de Grey was ordered to begin settling the middle Shannon region between Meath and Connaught. De Grey's stone tower, probably built on an earlier motte of 1199, had to be rebuilt the following year after it collapsed, killing nine of the garrison. It was again repaired in 1251 and in 1273-9 the curtain walls were probably added, flanked by massive D-shaped towers. Most of this structure was still present when drawn by Thomas Phillips in 1685, together with a fine suite of apartments, used by the Lord President of Connaught, overlooking the river.

The castle's strategic position meant that it saw a good deal of military action. In 1691 it suffered the heaviest bombardment in Irish history: Williamite General Ginkel attacked with over 600 bombs, 12,000 cannon balls and huge quantities of stones. The whole castle was rebuilt from 1793 to 1815, reduced in height and strengthened for the mounting of heavy cannon in efforts to fortify the Shannon against French invasion. The lower storey of de Grey's polygonal tower is the only part of the medieval fabric to survive.

Athlone town. NGR: N 038413.