I like whiskey. I really like it.
So, I wanted to stop by Sean’s Bar in Athlone, a city in County Roscommon, the oldest continuously operating pub in Ireland and likely the world, during my visit.
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 whiskey’s birthplace.
When an older bartender gives you advice. I just assume they are correct. That advice seemed all-the-more sagely coming from an Irish Bartender. Timmy went on saying that whiskey may have had its origins in the monastery, but It spread to the world through Rindoon.
Timmy told us that the locals got it from the monastery, brought it to Rindoon. During the 1200s, Rindoon acted as a trading town between the Irish Kings and the Occupying Anglo-Normans (the English). The Irish introduced the Anglo-Normans (English) and the Norse (Vikings) to whiskey here. Those two groups subsequently shared it with the world.
During the 14th Century, Rindoon was abandoned and left relatively untouched as farmland.
Getting to it was a bit tough. It’s about a 25-minute drive from Athlone. We had to manually ping the location on our 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.
The land that 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.
We were the only car parked in the small area outside a gate. The idea of an entire abandoned millennia-old city was exciting.
Read the sign before going through the gate. The family that owns the land asks you to stay on the path. Although, we quickly lost the trail, and a man driving a tractor around, mowing the large pasture didn’t seem to mind much. The sign also asks you not to bring dogs onto the property and stay far away from the bull. The bull put my head on a swivel a bit, but we didn’t run across him.
The hike basically skirts the outside of the peninsula and is a bit of a haul. It’s Ireland, so dress for rain. And be sure to wear shoes you don’t mind getting messed up due to a large amount of sheep and cow dung.
The first thing you see is where the landowner lives. It’s my dream house. Behind the house are some barns and an ancient cemetery. Continue walking land you 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. They appear to be fossils of ancient Crinoids and coral, approximately 320 million years old. It was a bit of a wow moment for me.
While we were visiting, there was a heavy fog layer and a dense cloud cover, giving it a sort of mystical feel. As we walked down the main street of where the village used to lie, now simply foundations lead straight towards Rindoon Castle jutting out of a ring of trees.
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. On the backside of the castle, a small bit of the wall had collapsed. You could look inside the walls at the rear and the front entrance. However, plentiful and clearly marked signs told you to keep out and warned of the danger of collapsing walls.
Honestly, I’ve never been more tempted to trespass in my life. The farmer mowing his land that he graciously allows people to hike on seemed to be keeping a friendly eye on us. 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, which 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 is the ruins of an old cathedral and a grain mill that could easily be confused for a defensive tower. Another forest tips the peninsula, where 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 capture 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 decided to write a historical fiction novel, it would most certainly be on the drama that centered on Rindoon a thousand years ago.
More interestingly, we returned to Athlone that night to stay. I talked to dozens of people in a half dozen bars, all locals, 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 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.