Castles and Whiskey
This wonderful Castle and Whiskey tour, will bring you to the heart of the midlands, stopping at the Athlone City and Athlone Castle with a fascinating history where you will be given a castle tour. Then you will visit historical monastic site of Clonmacnoise. Your last stop on your Whiskey and Castle tour will be to the oldest working distillery in the world of Kilbegan. See how water, barley and yeast is made into this world class Irish product.
Nestled on the River Shannon between counties Westmeath and Roscommon and commonly referred to as the Gateway to the West, Athlone has grown into a thriving town with so much history and heritage just waiting to be explored. Athlone today reflects almost a thousand years of growth. The Castle still stands guarding the crossing point of the Shannon, as it has done now for 800 years. However, today it is a tourist attraction rather than a military fortress. The Shannon has three bridges spanning it at Athlone – the town bridge which was completed in 1844; the railway bridge which was completed in 1851 and ‘Shannon Way’ the new bridge which was opened in 1991.
Experience a magnificent immersive journey through history at Athlone Castle Visitor Centre. Climb the steps to the castle keep and enjoy the views across the majestic River Shannon or climb higher still to the castle battlements and look across the rooftops of the entire town. Take a step back in history through playful interactive exhibits, touch screen animations and an immersive 360-degree cinematic experience that brings the Great Siege of Athlone to life.
Swords, cannon balls and stunning sculptures gives these ancient stories depth. Vibrant displays and historic artefacts will lead you along a 3D timeline that illustrates Athlone’s last 200 years.Enjoy the wonderful voice of John Count McCormack in a display dedicated to the memory of the world-famous Athlone tenor.
Athlone Castle re-opened its doors to the public in 2012 following a multi-million euro renovation to transform the castle into a state-of-the-art, multi-sensory visitor experience.
This Norman Castle dating from the 13th century, dominates the town, and was central to the siege of Athlone in 1691. The eight newly designed exhibition spaces pursue both a chronological and thematic sequence combining hands-on and fun experiences that will appeal to both children and adults.
Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland’s most celebrated monastic sites founded by St. Ciaran, dates back to the mid-6th century and includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian gravestones in Western Europe.
In the 6th century St Ciaran arrived to build a church on the banks of the mighty Shannon in the very centre of Ireland and Clonmacnoise was born in Early Christian Ireland. It began as a modest settlement but over time the huts were replaced impressive stone buildings. It became a thriving centre for learning and creativity. So much so, it was here where the High King of Ireland was buried in the year 915.
Today with it’s two perfectly preserved round towers, three high crosses and large collection of early Christian grave slabs it is a ‘must-see’ part of any visit to Athlone and while exploring Ireland’s Ancient East.
Kilbeggan Distillery is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in Ireland. It was founded by Matthias McManus in 1757. Situated on the bank of the River Brosna, there was plenty of access to the three natural ingredients needed for whiskey distillation: turf, grain and water. A visit to Kilbeggan Distillery will take you back in time to discover how Irish whiskey was made during the 19th century. Experienced guides tell the story of how whiskey was produced in Kilbeggan and the restored buildings and machinery bring this story to life. Visitors are treated to a complimentary sample of Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey at the end of their tour.
John Locke took over the distillery in 1843,and it passed down to his granddaughters Mary Evelyn and Florence Emily in 1943. The economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s took its toll on Locke's. In 1947 it was put up for sale and the successful bidder, the Transworld Trust, involved fraudsters from Switzerland and Austria. Oliver J. Flanagan alleged under Oireachtas privilege that Fianna Fáil politicians were linked to the deal; a tribunal of inquiry discounted the allegations but the damage contributed to Fianna Fáil's defeat in the 1948 election. On 19 March 1954 production ceased at the distillery. It closed closing completely in 1957 and the building began to fall into disrepair. 25 years after its closure, the community of Kilbeggan restored the distillery and opened it to the public as a whiskey distillery museum. Cooley Distillery bought the license to produce Kilbeggan and Lockes Whiskey, and later took over the museum along with opening a new working distillery in Kilbeggan.
Today the distillery is known as Kilbeggan Distillery, and includes a restaurant, The Pantry Restaurant, and a 19th-century waterwheel that is in working condition. The distillery can also be powered by a steam engine, which is in working condition but rarely used. It was installed to allow the distillery to continue operating in times of low water on the river.
Whiskey production recommenced in 2007, the year in which the distillery celebrated its 250th Anniversary. One of the two Copper Pot Stills that is being used in Kilbeggan was made in the early 1800s and is the oldest working Pot Still producing whiskey in the world today. It was once used in the distillery in Tullamore. In 2010 Kilbeggan became a fully operational distillery once again, with the installation of a mash tun and fermentation vats. Although the whiskey now in production at Kilbeggan will not be ready for sale until 2014, the three brands associated with the distillery—Kilbeggan, Locke's Blend and Locke's Malt—have, for many years, been made at the Cooley Distillery in County Louth from where they are transported to Kilbeggan to be stored in a granite warehouse over 200 years old. In late 2009, the distillery released small '3-pack' samples of its still-developing "new make spirit" at 1 month, 1 year, and 2 years of age. (In Ireland, the spirit must be aged a minimum of three years before it can legally be called "whiskey.")