Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Athlone Castle & The Luan Gallery ~ Ancient Ireland’s Fortifications Brought to Life!




Through travelling Ireland and seeking out museums, exhibitions and events with our 5 children, we have instilled in them a love of Irish history and heritage. My older three children Orla, Aoife (9) and Seamus (7) had been learning about Ancient Ireland’s Fortifications in class so our Tullamore trip was an ideal opportunity to bring them to Athlone Castle.

From Tullamore it was a 35 minute drive to Athlone but we stopped off along the way when we saw a playground. I find it helps to break up road trips with young children if you let them keep an eye out for playgrounds you can stop at along the way. We have rules though, if we’re on the way somewhere we only stay as long as it takes for them all to get a go on everything in the playground then it’s a run back to the van to set off again.

Athlone Castle



As we arrived at Athlone Castle it had just started to rain, we were lucky enough to find on street parking around the side of the castle on the banks of the River Shannon costing €2.40 for two hours parking. We received a lovely warm welcome from Mary and Fiona who gave us a map of the eight gallery spaces.


Little ones enthralled in Athlone Castle


My children were mesmerised by the first room we entered as it contained an audio visual set up they had never seen before. There was a large flat rock like structure on a table in front of a bench; they quickly clambered up onto it to see what the buttons would do. To their delight an over head projector projects moving battle scenes onto the rock, this was further enhanced by a large cinema screen on the wall behind it explaining what they were seeing, they were also surrounded by the sounds of a battlefield. Needles to say we had to stay for the full presentation twice over!

We moved on into the other exhibition spaces learning as we went that Athlone Castle was built in 1210 to defend the crossing point of the River Shannon. The next room was full of our favourite kind of history “hands on”. They got to play interactive games, use the touch screen displays, build a 3D model of the Castle, practice using a bow and arrow and even dress up in period costume for a photo or two.


All smiles building his very own Athlone Castle


There is a small lift so I had no issues negotiating three floors with a baby in a buggy. When we got to the second floor, Ann a volunteer at the castle joined us to explain all about the run up to the siege of Athlone. The children soaked up what she had to say like sponges as she was very friendly and warm towards them.

My favourite exhibitions were the 360° cinema depicting the 1691 siege of Athlone and the life size Jacobite and Williamite soldiers clothed in recycled materials, a quirky twist that makes for a spectacular display.

Admission: Adults €8, Senior/Student €6, Children under 15 €4, Children under 4 free and discounted family tickets €20 & €25. On your admission tickets you will find special offers such as half price admission to Belvedere House and 25% off an Irish coffee at Sean’s Bar among others.

Luan Gallery


The Luan Gallery is located directly across the road from Athlone Castle; you can use the underpass if you wish to avoid crossing the road. Luan Gallery the first purpose built municipal art gallery in the midlands was opened in 2012. While we were visiting they had a 1916 Centenary exhibition. My son Seamus made sure we didn’t miss it and I was glad as not only did we get to view some wonderful artwork we also got to take in some beautiful views of the River Shannon.

Admission is free, guided tours are also available free of charge but they must be booked in advance.

Sean’s Bar

Cillian refueling, while the big ones plan our next move (he's his Aunty Sue's protege)


Dating back to 900 A.D. Sean’s Bar has claimed the title of oldest bar in Ireland. Guinness World Records list it as the oldest watering hole in Europe, so I knew while we were in Athlone we had to pop in for a glass of lemonade and a packet of crisps. With low ceilings and saw dust on the floor as soon as you enter you know you’ve stepped back in time.

The smell of the open turf fire envelops you and brought me right back to my childhood days of holidays in Connemara. As we were having a drink a couple in the corner were chatting, I recognised them as we’d seen them in both Athlone Castle and Luan Gallery. The gent approached our table as he was going to the bar. I was nicely surprised when he complimented me on giving my children a wonderful childhood and filling it with memories like these.

Aoife warming her cockles in Seán's Bar before moving on - she didn't lick it off a ston...
OH WAIT!!


Sean’s Bar also has a riverside garden I’d say it’d be beautiful for a visit during the summer months to watch the traffic on the Shannon while having a cooling drink.

Did you know you can take a cruise on a replica Viking longship down the Shannon to Lough Ree? I didn’t! It’s a 75 minute cruise costing €35 for a family, departing from the quayside at Athlone Castle. Unfortunately it was raining while we were there so we’ll be returning during the school holidays.

Have you been to Athlone? What did we miss?


*Disclaimer: I had paid into Athlone Castle but was very generously refunded our admission fee when we were leaving as I had been tweeting about our experience, while we were there. I also received a pair of adult tickets for a return visit which I gave away via a Twitter competition. @msmum was our lucky winner & the tickets have been posted to her.
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