Top reasons why you should consider a move to Athlone
The majestic Shannon is central to Athlone's identity, as our reporter discovers when he dips his toe into the good life that thrives here along its banks
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 midlands 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.
Tonight, in the local Sheraton Hotel, players from the Athlone Town team who held mighty AC Milan (with a young Giovanni Trapattoni on the coaching staff) to a scoreless draw in their UEFA Cup first leg tie at St Mel's Park on October 22, 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 more than 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 majestic Shannon. The river 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 can 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, and Athlone has always been known as a military town.
The Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is the area's regional third level college.
The principal shopping centres, Golden Island and Athlone Town Centre, both in the town, house many of the big retailers, including Tesco, Boots, Argos, Zara, Marks and Spencer and TK Maxx.
The town is also home to three theatres: the Dean Crowe Theatre & Arts Centre, the Little Theatre, and Passionfruit Theatre. And, in 2012, the Luan, a multi-million euro contemporary art gallery, opened.
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 enjoy good conversation and literature. The animated discussions often continue over a pint in the institution that is Sean's Bar, on Main Street, documented as far back as 900AD.
Sport plays a huge part in local life. Athlone Regional Sports Centre has a swimming pool, gym, and AstroTurf pitches, while 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 Brigid's (Roscommon) and Clann na nGael just outside Athlone itself. Athlone is also home to Buccaneers RFC, which plays 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 lakelands to Lough Allen.
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, is Baysports, an inflatable playground for children and adults.
For golfers, there is Athlone Golf Club, Glasson and Mount Temple Golf & Country Club.
Another popular attraction is the Viking Cruise where, from Easter to October, you can take to the waters in a 21-metre replica of a Viking Knarr.
Shopping: There are lots of interesting boutiques and galleries, including the Olivia Danielle Boutique, which does a great line in occasion dresses, while the Bastion Gallery stocks only ethically sourced gifts.
Foodies are spoiled for choice. The Fatted Calf was Georgina Campbell's casual dining restaurant of the year in 2014, and The Left Bank Bistro was named a 2015 Fodor's Choice Property by Fodor's Travel. Thyme, meanwhile, has earned a place in the McKenna's guide, and Kin Khao Thai restaurant 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; Our Lady's Bower School, a girls' school; Marist College (alma mater of Robbie Henshaw), for boys; St Aloysius, for boys, and St Joseph's College, Summerhill, for girls. St Aloysius and Summerhill are to amalgamate beginning the 2017/18 academic year.
Property: Dermot O'Meara, of Sherry FitzGerald O'Meara, describes a steady local market, and anticipates a modest five per cent rise in prices this year.
At the higher end, upsizers would aspire to areas 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. Expect to pay from €300k plus for a three-bed semi-detached to €400k plus for a detached property. Add 40 per cent for a waterside frontage.
In the mid-range are the likes of Moydrum, Ballykeeran and Summerhill, where prices range from the high €100,000s to the high €200,000s.
Devine Homes has three-bed semi, 67 Cartron Drive, on the market for €120k; Sherry FitzGerald O'Meara is seeking €225k for Montree, Abbey Road, a three-bed detached property, and €239k for Bellville Court, Devenish, also a three-bed detached, while DNG Begley is looking for €260k for a five-bedroom dormer bungalow on one acre at Carnagh East.
Athlone Area CV
The mighty Shannon
Fine facilities and amenities
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
Next week: Let's Move To Glasnevin