The Battlefields of Athenry (1995)

Source : The Irish Times August 16th 1995

Recreation of Battle of Athenry

A MAN sits in the wooden stocks being pelted with wet sponges Far from feeling disgraced, he smiles benignly at his attackers who are paying for the time. Watching children are slightly distracted by the forthcoming jousting tournament. A girl of about 10 asks an older boy drinking 7 Up will the knights be on horseback? A court jester wanders about, carrying three large torches which he finally lights, with the assistance of a cigarette-lighter. “Hey mister, are you gonna juggle them?” asks a youth in Levis. “No, you are,” said the laconic jester handing over the burning torches. Exit chastened boy.

 Middle Ages

The Middle Ages, minus the competing vile odours historians enjoy describing, has returned to Ireland’s finest example of a medieval walled town.

Last night the townspeople recreated the 1597 Battle of Athenry by storming the castle, although historically, Red Hugh O’Donnell did not take it. The battle is important, not only because the Irish won, but because its outcome left Athenry relatively suspended in time for several centuries, its development curtailed as Galway began to flourish.

Athenry’s Fossilisation

Athenry’s fossilisation helps explain the survival of its original street layout. About three quarters, or a kilometre and a half, of the original town wall, built about 1310, still stand. The town’s bloodiest engagement occurred on August 10th, 1316, when 8,000 men died. Victory secured the Norman position in Ireland and seriously undermined Edward Bruce’s Irish campaign.

Earlier, in 1249, the Irish had insisted on fighting the Normans on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, despite the Norman, request to postpone the battle in honour of the feast day. The home side was routed by the Norman cavalry.


Fleeing soldiers praying at a nearby ancient well saw the Virgin Mary. She told them that the people of Athenry must atone for their ill-advised attack by going on pilgrimage to the well every year. Although it looks a bit like Lourdes, no miracles have yet been recorded.


MEDIEVAL and Renaissance music provided by several groups of musicians, including the Canter Berries, appearing for the next three days during the production of Michael Bogdanov’s adaption of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales at Flagmount, Co Clare, creates instant atmosphere.

The minstrels, walk among the crowds visiting the various craft stalls. A trio, The Ladies of Galway, with two flutes and a violin are sedately performing.

 Children are having their faces painted. Some are wearing period dress. Yet they are models of self-possession, while the adults — especially the women — are noticably pleased with themselves in their long gowns and head dresses

 Market town

The castle is safe. Established as a market town in 1241, present-day Athenry has metamorphised into its medieval self. Only a wild boar roasting on a spit is missing.