Athenry History and Heritage

Athenry History & Heritage on YouTube

Medieval Athenry

…The name of the town is an Irish one, Baile Atha an Riogh, thus indicating that the ford there must have been of importance in pre-Norman times. As no kings of any note are known to have been connected with the area at any time, the name should perhaps be translated as ‘River Ford’ rather than as ‘Kings Ford’, rige being an ancient Indo-European word associated with rivers. The river at Athenry is ‘The Clareen’ which, in turn, gives its name to Clarenbridge where it enters the sea.

…The history of the town can be seen through its monuments. The earliest remaining building in the town is the Castle, built at the ford by Meiler de Bermingham, probably shortly before 1240. This castle, one of the finest 13th century castles remaining in Ireland, now consists of a three-storied keep (the gables were added to its top during the 15th/I6th century) surrounded by a strong curtain-wall which had two corner-towers and a corner-buttress near the strongly fortified gate – the keep not being centrally placed, but overlooking the curtain-wall at the north-east, obviated the necessity of a defensive tower there. Athenry Castle has being restored by the Office of Public Works.

Excerpt of work by Prof. Etienne Rynne, more can be read here.

A Medieval Town Trail map can be found here.

Athenry History at the Athenry Heritage Centre

Athenry a Detail History

A more detailed history can be found on the Athenry Heritage Centre website here covering the following topics:

  • Esker Riada

  • Meiler de Bermingham

  • Red Hugh O’Donnell

  • Athenry Castle

  • Town Walls

  • The dominican Priory

  • The Market Cross

A photo of the fields of Athenry

The Fields of Athenry

The Fields of Athenry is probably the best known song about the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s yet it didn’t appear until 1970s – more than 125 years after the events it describes.  It was written by Dublin songwriter Pete St John who also wrote such modern folk standards as The Rare Ould Times and The Ferryman.  It has since become a standard on the folk circuit as well as an unofficial anthem for Irish sports fans at major events.

The Fields of Athenry tells the story of a young man called Michael who is caught stealing corn to feed his family at the height of the Great Famine. His punishment is to be transported to Botany Bay in Australia where he will have to serve several years doing hard labour.

Excerpt from a lovely article “FIELDS OF ATHENRY – SONG OF LOVE AND GREAT FAMINE” on the Irish Music Daily website, read the full article here.

Pete St John of the Fields of Athenry Fame

Fields of Athenry Gets an update

While the song is based on a fictional family Pete St. John has since linked it to a family from Tipperary.

Mr St John said: “I would like everyone who sings the Fields of Athenry to be aware of the story of John and Mary Walsh. There is no use in reinventing the wheel, but I am writing a spoken piece about the couple as an introduction to the Fields of Athenry. I will put the words on my website and I would ask everyone who sings my song, even if just in a sing-song, to speak these words first so we can all help find out what happened to this couple.”

From an article published in the Irish Independent, 2006– Full article here.

Here are some of the most frequent questions Pete St. John receives about this work.