Athenry, County Galway
The town of the ‘ford of the kings’ is an old walled settlement that once lay at the intersection of three kingdoms those of the O’Kellys, O’Flahertys and O’Heynes. The Anglo-Norman lord, Meiler de Bermingham, built a stout castle here in about 1240 and, as Baron of Athenry, made it his base in Galway. The castle still dominates the southern approach to the town - a mighty, austere keep barely penetrated by light and surrounded by a high-walled bawn or enclosure. Defence, not comfort, was clearly the priority of its builders.
Meiler de Bermingham founded the Dominican priory nearby at about the same time as the castle, and its ruined church, with its elegant stone tracery, can still be seen. It contains a number of interesting tombstones, including one dated 1682 which shows the tools of the blacksmith’s trade. To get hold of the keys for the castle and priory, ask any of the local people, who will willingly give directions to the keyholder.
Part of a 15th-century market cross stands in the middle of the town, with a crucifixion on one side and the Virgin and Child on the other, badly weathered but an interesting piece of carving.
Athenry is a real hidden gem that is worth a visit on your Ireland tours.