I like whiskey. I really like it. I made it a point during my visit to Ireland to stop by Sean’s Bar in Athlone, a city in County Roscommon, the oldest continuously operating pub in Ireland and likely the world to drink whiskey
I ordered a glass and started talking to the bartender Timmy Donovan. I told him I was on my way to Clonmacnoise, a monastic site founded by St. Ciaran in 544 and purported to be the birthplace of Whiskey.
When an older bartender gives me advice, I just assume they are correct. Naturally, that advice seems all-the-more sagely coming from an Irish bartender. Timmy went on to tell me that Whiskey may have its origins in the monastery, but it spread to the world through Rindoon.
Timmy explained that the locals got it from the monastery and brought it to Rindoon. During the 1200’s, Rindoon acted as sort of trading town between the Irish kings and the occupying Anglo-Normans (aka the English). The Irish introduced the Anglo-Normans and the Norse (Vikings) to whiskey here, and then those two groups subsequently shared it with the world.
During the 14th century, Rindoon was abandoned and left relatively untouched as farmland., so getting to it was a bit tough. Not only is it about a 25-minute drive from Athlone, but I also had to manually ping the location on my phone’s map apps to locate it. However, it seems that it has been added to Google maps since our trip, making it easier to find for you.
Be advised, the land the town of Rindoon sits on is still a working farm. Do not expect a parking lot or a large sign alerting you to its presence. It sits at a bend in the road and there is enough room outside the gates for a few cars to park.
My rental was the only car parked in the small area and the idea of an entire abandoned millennia-old city to myself was exciting.
Read the sign before going through the gate. They ask you to stay on the path, but I quickly lost the path. The farm owner or an employee was mowing the large pasture in a large green tractor didn’t seem to mind much. The sign also asks you to not bring dogs onto the property and to stay far away from the bull. The idea of running into a bull put my head on a swivel a bit. However, I didn’t see him. The animals seemed mostly keen to stay far away anyways.
The hike basically skirts the outside of the peninsula and is a bit of a haul. It’s Ireland, so dress for rain. Also, be sure to wear shoes you don’t mind getting messed up due to the large amount of mud, sheep and cow dung.
The first thing you see is where the landowner lives–it’s my dream house. Behind their house are some barns and an ancient cemetery, but continue walking and you will come across the town wall that stretches across the peninsula.
Take some time to check out the town wall and castle wall. Many of the stones used for the Medieval castle also happen to be significantly older fossils. I did some digging — not literally — and they appear to be fossils of crinoids, an ancient sea life that is approximately 320 million years old. There were also a handful of stones around what appeared to be fossilized coral. To be honest, it was a bit of a WOW moment for me.
While I was visiting, there was a heavy layer of fog and a dense cloud cover, giving it a sort of mystical feel. I strolled down the main street, where the village used to lie, and it is now simply foundations. This street leads straight towards Rindoon Castle jutting out of a ring of trees.
On the back side of castle, a portion of the wall had collapsed making it easy for you to look inside the walls at the rear and the front entrance. However, plenty of clearly marked signs told you to keep out and warned of the danger of collapsing walls.
There is an actual moat around the outside of the castle, and it looks as if they were able to flood it quickly from the nearby lake if necessary. It doesn’t strike me that the farmers of the last few generations had any reason to test that theory. The moat had long since been empty, outside of a heavy rain, and was filled with trees at the time.
Although, I’ve never been more tempted to trespass in my life, the farmer mowing his land he graciously allows people to hike on seemed to be keeping a friendly eye on me. Besides my fear of breaking the law, the farmer’s presence was enough to keep me from going in. I did, however, stick my head in and to take a quick look. Within the walls was a surprising amount of various structures that have since engulfed my dreams.
The sense of awe I felt was striking. The place was so astounding that at some point I no longer cared about the amount of sheep crap and mud my shoes had been accruing.
Outside of the castle are the ruins of an old cathedral and a grain mill that could easily be confused for a defensive tower. Another forest tips the peninsula along with the remains of the dock used by the long-vanished residents of the town and castle of Rindoon.
Rindoon is one of those rare places that captures your imagination. If you search the web for it, you only get tiny bits and pieces of broad information and a small handful of photos.
If by some chance I decide to write a historical fiction novel, it would most certainly be on the drama that centered on Rindoon a thousand years ago.
I found it interesting that, after we returned to Athlone that night to stay, I talked to dozens of people in a half dozen bars, all locals, and they’d never even heard of Rindoon. The only person who seemed to know of its existence was Timmy the bartender, who also told me that the only people who really know that Rindoon exists are people that live on that street.
If you have the opportunity, go visit Rindoon. It was truly one of the highlights of my trip. Just keep an eye out for ancient fossilized sea life trapped in the walls. And probably the bull too.
If you enjoy whiskey and happen to visit Sean’s bar, buy their bottle of Sean’s Bar Whiskey. They put a considerable amount of research into finding one of the earliest known recipes from the area, perhaps even the same recipe that was sold to the Vikings and Brits and helped make whiskey what it is today. Except Sean’s Bar Whiskey is aged in bourbon barrels, but if you had to bend one rule, using bourbon barrels is probably the ideal rule to bend.