Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Sunrise by the Shannon in Athlone

Sunrise on the banks of the Shannon in Athlone this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Athlone, taking part in the annual conference for the diocesan clergy of Dublin and Glendalough.

Our main speaker is John Bell of the Iona Community, and on Monday evening, the archbishop-elect, Dr Michael Jackson, spoke about his vision for the diocese.

I am staying in the Sheraton Hotel, and rose before sunrise this morning for a walk through the town and along the banks of the River Shannon.

In Irish, Athlone is known as Baile Átha Luain, the “town of Luan’s ford.” Athlone is on the banks of the River Shannon, at the southern end of the shores of Lough Ree. This is the geographical centre of Ireland, and Athlone stands in two counties – Westmeath and Roscommon – and two provinces, Leinster and Connacht, with the Shannon running through the heart of the town.

In the past, Athlone has been a vital river crossing, and the scene of many battles, especially in the mid and late 17th century. Colonel Richard Grace, who commanded the Jacobite forces at the Siege of Athlone after the Battle of the Boyne, is buried in the tower of Saint Mary’s Church of Ireland parish church.

The Roman Catholic parish church of Saint Mary’s, which is close to the hotel, was recently given the temporary status of cathedral for the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise as work is carried out to restore Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Longford, destroyed by fire over a year ago.

The River Shannon and the twin towers of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

However, the most prominent church in Athlone is the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, close to the bridge, an imposing-looking church that is sometimes mistaken for a cathedral. Designed by Ralph Byrne and completed in 1937, its dominant feature is the pair of twin towers.

I strolled out of the hotel this morning, past the pub where Count John McCormack was born, and onto Church Street, to look at the Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Mary’s, and its tower. From there, I made my way down to the banks of the Shannon, in time to view the sunrise, with the twin towers of Saint Peter and Saint Paul to my back.

It was a good start to the day.