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Bradshaw’s Guide


A borough town, returning one member. The greater part is on the Westmeath side of the Shannon, which issues out of Lough Rea, a short distance north, but a portion is in Roscommon, on the opposite bank. The river flows over several rapids here, to clear which, a canal a mile long has been cut from the. town to the lake. The houses are poor and dirty. Felt hats and woollen friezes are manufactured; and it enjoys a good carrying trade by steam and canal, as well as by rail; but its chief importance depends on its being a strong military post, commanding the ford over the Shannon, and the roads to the West of Ireland. To this end a castle was built here by Henry II., part of which remains, with later additions of great strength; it stood a long siege in the civil wars, and again in 1691, when General De Ginkell. took it from the partisans of James II., for which he was created Earl of Athlone. James’s commander, Col. Grace, was an old veteran, with whom the king had been very intimate. When summoned by De Ginkell to surrender, he fired his pistol in the air:—”These are my terms,” he said, “and when my provisions are gone, I will eat my boots.” He fell in the action, which was an easy one for the English, as Saint Ruth, the Irish leader, who was in the neighbourhood, neglected his duty to the besieged. He was killed a fortnight later, at the battle of Aughrim, 20 miles from this place (at Killcommadan Hill), where King James’s supporters were finally routed. The castle includes barracks for 1,500 men, with an armoury, magazines, etc., altogether covering 14 acres. The ancient narrow bridge to the Leinster side, opposite it, is replaced by a new one of stone, built in 1844. On the old one was an inscription stating that it was erected by Lord Deputy Sidney (father of Sir Phillip), in Queen Elizabeth’s time. St. Peter’s church stands on the site of an abbey, founded when the castle was first raised. From the battery of the latter is a view of the flat, boggy shores of Lough Rea, and Moydrum Castle, the seat of Viscount Castlemaine, is three miles off.

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