Posted by: mdmusingsie | May 7, 2017

Athlone Castle

On my way to Galway recently I stopped to visit Athlone Castle.  I had visited this castle once before, however; only the stone outer structures were available for viewing. Since then I had heard that renovations had taken place and was looking forward to see what had been done.

Unfortunately, my expectations far exceeded the results.  Instead of a restoration of a medieval castle, there’s a modern glass and steel extension tacked onto the monolithic structure that serves as the launching point for a 21st century museum experience.

Athlone21_sm

Athlone_castle_sm

Museum building pre-extension

The exhibit starts with the history of the settlement of Athlone and moves along chronologically with the primary focus of the museum being the Siege of Athlone in 1691 where the Jacobites (James VII followers) fought with the Williamites (William of Orange’s army).  While the Jacobites held for quite some time, eventually they were beaten opening up everything west of the Shannon River to conquest.

As a museum it has interesting information with a large emphasis on interactive exhibits which are perfect for children.  However, I found many of the wall plaques difficult to read as the type-face was so small.  You had to be so close to the plaque to read it that had there been a group of people trying to read the same information, there would be a queue.  A proper information plaque should be readable from several people back.

The upper level of the round tour in the center of the courtyard is used as a 360-degree theatre to show a short movie about the Siege of Athlone.  The lower level hold a series of glass cases with artifacts; however, the lighting was poor and cast glare on the glass making photos difficult to take.

Athlone22_sm

As mentioned, the museum must have been designed primarily to appeal to children with the number of interactive plaques, push buttons, as well as period-type clothing for dress-up.  Outside there were more games and photo boards (where you stick your head out to have your photo taken with a body of a knight or such), as well as a giant chess set.

What I found most lacking was any reconstruction that showed what a typical castle room would have looked like – not a single one was on view.  Everything was so clinical and modern that, for me, it clashed with the massive stone structures that make up the fortress.

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I admit to being a hopeless romantic when it comes to castles – it wasn’t all damsels in long flowing gowns and pointy hats waiting around for a knight in shining armour to rescue them.  It was a time of no plumbing, infrequent bathing, no refrigeration and very little means of food preservation, which makes camping look like a five-star holiday.  However, I like my fantasy and when I visit a castle, I consider it my opportunity to step into that fantasy for a little while.  My visit to Athlone Castle left me wanting, in that regard.

The other thing that really struck me about the glass and steel extension to the museum was the fact that if any person were to purchase a castle ruin or other listed building (one that has been designated of having historical significance) in Ireland, you are required to restore it to within an inch of its original look and construction – employing specialist masons at extreme costs.  Yet the local government can tack on a modern extension to a castle without a second thought. Perhaps it’s that dichotomy that left me feeling let down by the so-called reconstruction.

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