In Praise of Irishtown, Athlone

To me, as a child, the town ended
At Bonavalley Bridge, but today
It is a mere milestone on an urban walk.
Once the market-garden with long plots
And busy nurserymen
Supplying the needs of the town;
Now it is the gateway to suburbia.

There is little left of Stanley Row
Except the smoky memories
Of a thatched cottage
From which Paddy Blake set out
Each morning on his early rounds.

Brideswell Street, named for a holy-well
And not a lock-up,
Once knew so many households
Full to overflowing
But now there is nothing.

From “Rothberry” see the glint on the glass
Of the Bower Convent
And watch the strollers on the old coach road.
A left-turn down to the bog
To a house that reared an archbishop
Where Paddy Curley still sells milk by the can
With a tilly thrown in for the cat.

And back to Sweeney’s pub
Where loose porter was sold
In quart-cans and
Soccer matches discussed
And dissected over a pint

“Three Sweet Afton’s and some
Stout for me Gran” said the lad
“I hope she has the poker heating”
Old Sweeney replied pouring the
Porter into the young man’s can.

This junction held the key to choice,
Onwards to town
Upwards to Love Lane
Where love was sold as a commodity,

And across from there
Mr English had the best address of all
“English, Scotch Parade, Irishtown”
Covering all the options

And from Sweeney’s on towards town
Really was Irishtown. A proud station
Where everyone knew their place
And oh! so many watering holes
That they were spoiled for choice:
If not Sweeney’s Pub then Owen J. Dolan’s,
Monica Coughlan’s or Cloonan’s Bar.

And the stylish Vico Cottages where once
Another bishop lived, close to his penal church,
And all this within easy reach of the
Heavy-handed boys in the Brawny Barracks

But to those in the know – this was the town
Rough as a bush or smooth as a baby’s skin
Those who were not in the know
Were out – those in the know were in.

Gearoid O’Brien