From an unpretentious crossing point on the Shannon, the ford of Luan, Athlone, grew to be the largest town in Westmeath.; The possession of the ford of Athlone has been disputed from earliest times. In 1001 Brian Boru marched there with a great army; in 1129 King Turlough O' Conor erected a wattle bridge there and in 1199 the Normans occupied the town and in 1257 built the town walls, part of which can still be seen. After their defeat at the Boyne in 1690, the Irish withdrew to Athlone and made the Shannon their first line of defence; however, the town eventually fell to the Williamites under Ginkel.
At present Athlone is an important industrial and commercial centre. It is at the confluence of the major east-west and north-south routes and is well served by both bus and rail transport. With a population fast approaching 20,000 the town can boast a wide range of shops and services catering for all needs.
A new relief road and bridge, completed in 1991 at a cost of IR37m serves to relieve traffic congestion in the town and make it a joy to shop in. Athlone is an ideal base from which to visit the Irish midlands. In the rich hinterland one can sample the wild beauty of the Irish bogs the delights of the Shannon and Lough Ree as well as the great monastic site of Clonmacnoise and the beautiful Goldsmith Country.
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