Athleague – A panoramic snapshot

By James M. Moran Ath-liag – The ford of the flagstones Athleague – This is the present town on the banks of the River Suck, five miles from Roscommon on the N63. The town developed around a ford or crossing place where the river is unusually shallow. Historically it is easy to see how a meeting place with barter from the earliest times would evolve into a commercial village, which is now a prosperous town. The river was harnessed to provide power for a corn mill, which drew custom from as far away as Castlerea and Ballinasloe. Built by the Curleys of Athleague, Their descendant, the eminent Rev. James Curley, S.J. (1976-1889) astronomer, mathematician and scientist built and directed Georgetown Observatory in Washington D.C. Surrounded by good farmland Athleague became the centre of sale for cattle, sheep and horses and for many years fairs were held twice annually on July 11th and September 23 rd .  Athleague horse fairs were internationally known and attracted patrons from all parts of Ireland and the British Isles. The last fair was held on July 11 1972. A milk separation station, now the Connacht Gold Co-op, and a meat factory KEPAK, continue the agricultural commerce, generating employment and income in the Athleague hinterland. Race horses, locally bred, owned and trained have brought glory and pride to the Athleague area by winning prestigious races in Ireland and across the water, thus keeping the time honoured association of the horse and Athleague in the present tapestry of the area and beyond. Justise, a disciple of St. Patrick visited Athleague in the fifth century and St. Patrick is venerated at the holy well Glun Patrick, about a mile outside the town where Mass is celebrated every year. The lovely chapel on the verge of the town with its marble altar and recently refurbished beautiful stained glass windows is dedicated to St. Patrick. Another saint, Fionn Monganan is recorded as the true patron saint of Athleague and the village was known as Athliag Monganan in the earliest annals. His powers of keeping pestilence and disease at bay is also remembered and the site of his hallowed cell is near the present Angling Centre beside the former ford. The land estates associated with the Athleague area belonged to the O’Kelly’s, Ormsby, Coote, Mitchell and Jameson. The big houses associated with these estates are now sadly ruined or demolished except for the jewel in the Roscommon crown, Castlecoote House, beautifully restored and just two miles upriver. Its association with the beautiful Gunning Sisters and the world renowned literary genius Oliver Goldsmith makes it’s inclusion with Athleague a must for both visitor and local alike.   Athleague hurling and football teams are renowned countrywide for their sportsmanship and ability and have proudly worn the blue and white both at home and abroad, from Athleague GAA pitch to Croke Park. As players, trainer and ambassadors for fair play, team members are known across Ireland, Britain and the USA.   The culture of the country has always been nurtured in Athleague with feiseanna, carnivals, plays, festivals and of course the fleadh ceoil, often promoted as fund raisers for community use. In the 1960s and 70s the modern music of L.A. and Liverpool was blasted out by local groups who have since manifested themselves in various line-ups from church singers to pub sessions and wedding bands. The visual arts are also alive and well in Athleague with frequently held exhibitions and are tastefully presented by Athleague Community Eco Art Group in The New Culture Park at the rear of the Community Centre. Here also a sculpture trail, titled ‘The Ora E.C. Kilroe Memorial contemplation Way’ allows you to do just that. In this quiet oasis the public can stroll or rest and contemplate on the past and present and their aspirations for the future of this pleasant town and it’s people. Further reading – ‘Vignettes’ by James M. Moran, moran/cartur publications. Local history 1996.