31 May 2012

Staying on the banks of the River Shannon in the heart of Ireland

Sunrise on the banks of the River Shannon in Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I voted in the referendum early this morning and later in the day I was at the funeral of a former colleague from The Irish Times, John Armstrong, in the Unitarian Church, Saint Stephen’s Green.

There were moving tributes from John’s son and two daughters, his son-in-law, his friend Maria, and from many of his former colleagues in The Irish Times, including Niall Kiely, Eugene McEldowney and Renagh Holohan, and the service was co-ordinated by Brian Whiteside of the Humanist Association of Ireland.

Despite the circumsstances, it was good to see so many old friends and colleagues, and we stood around talking long after the funeral had moved on to Enniskerry.

Later in Dawson Street, I bumped into another colleague of a different sort, the Revd Marcus Losack, and we went for coffee on the corner of Dawson Street and Molesworth Street.

Marcus and I were students together at the Irish School of Ecumenics in the early 1980s, while he was a curate in Zion Parish, Rathgar. Later he worked for almost a decade in Libya and then Jerusalem, and since 1995 he has lived near Glendalough, where he is the Executive Director of Céile Dé, a resource centre for Celtic Spirituality.

This evening, I am in Athlone, staying at the Creggan Court Hotel about a mile from the town centre.

Athlone, at the southern end of the shores of Lough Ree, is in the heart of Ireland, and is the largest town on the River Shannon. I was last here over a year ago, in February 2011 for the Dublin and Glendalough clergy conference.

This is the geographical centre of Ireland, and Athlone stands in two counties – Westmeath and Roscommon – and in two provinces, Leinster and Connacht, with the Shannon running through the heart of the town.

There is much to see and explore here. Sean’s Bar, below the castle on the west bank of the Shannon, claims to be the oldest pub in Europe – dating from the year 900. Another pub in the town boasts that Count John McCormack was born there.

This is also a perfect base for exploring Clonmacnoise, Clonfert, the Ely O Carroll and Goldsmith Country and the Shannon basin.

I plan to go for a stroll around the town after dinner this evening. Who knows where I might go tomorrow?

The Creggan Court Hotel is about a mile from Athlone town centre

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