Let’s Move To ATHLONE

(IRISH INDEPENDENT, November 6th, 2015)

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The broad majestic Shannon dominates the landscape of Athlone and beyond and plays a central role in the local economy of the largest town in the Irish midlands.

The Luan Gallery in Athlone recently secured the loan of a famous portrait by Sir William Orpen of John Count McCormack, the celebrated tenor, and native of the  town, for an exhibition which will open in December.

Another Athlone alumnus of more recent vintage is Robbie Henshaw, golden boy centre on the Ireland rugby team. One couldn’t help imagining if McCormack had been still around, he could have lead the Ireland team into the recent Rugby World Cup with a stirring rendition of Ireland’s Call.

Maybe Robbie and his team-mates would have been inspired to storm past Argentina and into the semi-final at least in England!

Tonight, in the local Sheraton Hotel (*note to sub, Friday, November 6th, 2015), players from the Athlone Town team who held mighty AC Milan (who had a young Giovanni Trapattoni on their coaching staff) to a scoreless draw in their UEFA Cup first leg tie at St Mel’s Park on October 22nd, 1975 will be guests of honour at a gala dinner to mark the 40th anniversary of that wonderful night.

Although they lost the return leg at the San Siro Stadium by three late goals to nil, few of the over 10,000 fans jammed into St Mel’s Park that night who witnessed the historic game in Athlone will ever forget it.

Athlone, or Baile Átha Luain in Irish – “town of Luan’s ford – near the southern shore of Lough Ree, is the largest town in the Midlands, spanning both the east and west banks of the Shannon.

The majestic Shannon, broad and surging, dominates the landscape of Athlone and beyond and plays a huge part in the local economy.

In the shadow of Athlone Castle, the western bank is an atmospheric jumble of twisting streets, colourfully painted houses, historic pubs, antique shops and more.

The town is on the N6 road connecting Galway to Dublin. The N55 connects the town with Ballymahon and Cavan, the N61 with Roscommon, and the N62 with Birr, Roscrea, and southern Ireland.

The M6 motorway connects the town directly with Dublin and Galway, making it very attractive to house buyers charmed by its amenities and its relative proximity to Dublin and to Galway and the west.

Athlone is also unusual in that with six exits off the motorway, it is very easy to get around; nowhere is more than 10 minutes away by car, so you an go from west to east and vice versa without having to go into town.

With a population of 20,153, according to the 2011 Census, Athlone is really a big small town. It  has branches of several State and semi-State organisations, including the Department of Education, the Revenue Commissioners, Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann, IDA Ireland, and Enterprise Ireland, thus ensuring a strong local economy.

Custume Barracks, on the west bank, is the headquarters of the Western Command of the Army.

The Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is the area’s regional third level college.

Shopping

The principal shopping centres, Golden Island and Athlone Town Centre, both in the town, house all the major retailing names between them, including Tesco, Boots, Argos, Zara, Marks and Spencer and TK Maxx.

Social/amenities

There are three theatres in Athlone, the Dean Crowe Theatre & Arts Centre, the Little Theatre, and Passionfruit Theatre. In 2012, the Luan, a multi-million euro contemporary art gallery, opened in the town.

The RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival takes place every year here, and the annual Athlone Literary Festival is a must for readers, writers and those who just enjoy good conversation and literature. The animated discussions often continue over a pint in the institution that is Sean’s Bar, on Main Street, which has a documented history going right back to 900AD.

Athlone Regional Sports Centre has a swimming pool, gym, and AstroTurf pitches and sport plays a huge part in Athlone life. Athlone Town nowadays play their home games in Lissywollen.

The Athlone IT International Arena is Ireland’s first world class indoor athletics arena, boasting a floor space of nearly 10,000 square metres.

Athlone is home to Tubberclair, Garrycastle, and Athlone GAA clubs, with St Brigids (Roscommon) and Clann na nGael just outside Athlone itself. Athlone is also home to Buccaneers RFC, who play at Dubarry Park.

Lough Ree also offers wonderful coarse fishing and is hugely popular with fly fishermen.

Whether you enjoy a long easy cruise or a white-knuckle powerboat ride, or if kayaking among the islands is your thing, Athlone is your perfect jumping off point as you voyage south on the Shannon towards Limerick and the sea, or north through the lake lands to Lough Allen.

And there’s plenty of fine restaurants and watering holes along the way, such as Wineport Lodge, right on Lough Ree, in Glasson, and the setting for RTE’s popular The Restaurant series.

Also on Lough Ree, at Hodson Bay on the east bank, Baysports is an inflatable playground for children and adults alike.

For golfers, there is Athlone Golf Club, Glasson and Mount Temple Golf & Country Club.

Yet another attraction is the Viking Cruise, where from Easter to October, pleasure-seekers can take to the waters and the wild in a

21-metre long wooden  replica of a Viking Knarr.

Shopping

There are lots of interesting boutiques and galleries, including the Olivia Danielle Boutique, on Church Street, which does a great line in occasion dresses, while the Bastion Gallery, on, yes, Bastion Street, stocks only ethically sourced gifts and jewellery.

Food connoisseurs are spoiled for choice. The Fatted Calf, on Church Street, was Georgina Campbell’s casual dining restaurant of the year in 2014, and The Left Bank Bistro, on Fry Place, was named a 2015 Fodor’s Choice Property by Fodor’s Travel. May we recommend the Thai spiced chicken breast on egg noodles with chilli, lime, coriander & coconut milk?

Thyme, in Custume Place,  has earned a place in the McKenna’s guide. How good does Irish Rosé Veal Loin, with a Smoked Gubeen Cheese Sauce, aSpatzle with Pigs on the Green Pancetta, Cauliflower, Grilled Tomato and Veal Vinaigrette sound?

Kin Khao Thai restaurant, on Abbey Lane, was named by the late Paolo Tullio as the best ethnic restaurant in Ireland.

Schools

There are five major secondary schools in the Athlone area, the co-ed Athlone Community College, on Retreat Road; Our Lady’s Bower School, on Lower Road, a girls’ school; Marist College (alma mater of Robbie Henshaw), for boys, also on Retreat Road: St Aloysius, for boys, in The Park; and St Joseph’s College, Summerhill, for girls. St Aloysius and Summerhill are to amalgamate from the start of the 2017/2018 academic year. 

Property

Dermot O’Meara, of Sherry of FitzGerald O’Meara, describes a local market that is, above all, steady. He anticipates a modest 5 per cent rise in property prices this year.

At the higher end, upsizers would aspire to areas and villages around Lough Ree, such as Glasson, to the east, or Hodson Bay and Barrymore to the west, where they can live a life of boating, golfing, good food and pubs.

In these areas, we are talking anything from €300,000 plus for a three-bedroom semi-detached to €400,000 plus for a detached property. If there is waterside frontage involved, you can add another 40 per cent.

In the mid-range bracket would be the likes of Moydrum or Ballykeeran, on the west side, and Summerhill, where prices range between the high €100,000s and the  high €200,000s.

Devine Homes has put three-bed semi 67 Cartron Drive on the market for €120,000; Sherry FitzGerald O’Meara is seeking €225,000 for Montree, Abbey Road, a three-bed  detached property; Sherry FitzGerald O’Meara also has Bellville, Court Devenish, Athlone, 3-Bed Detached house, for €239,000

CV

Commendable

  • The mighty Shannon
  • Fine facilities and amenities
  • Great restaurants

Regrettable

  • National survey ranked Athlone the third most littered town or city in the country.
  • National cycleway between Athlone and Galway shelved for now
  • Shortage of rental property for those on rent allowance

— Enda Sheppard

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