For anyone walking along the canal in recent weeks, a hive of activity is most noticeable with the clearance of heavy scrub and vegetation.
Passers by have asked what is happening with the response noting that all guns are blazing on the first stage of the Conservation and Restoration Plan for the No.1 Gun Battery in Ranelagh, Athlone.
Hidden from mind-eye for many years, the sole surviving gun battery is getting some much needed heritage attention through the work of the Athlone No.1 Gun Battery Group and support of Westmeath County Council.
Chairperson of the Group, Mr. Shay Hamilton stresses the significance of the site in terms of the placement of canons on the gun battery in order to prevent the threat of forces loyal to Napoleon crossing the River Shannon and taking Athlone.
“The soldiers arming these defences were probably a mix of inhabitants of the town and the wider community and it is this sense of community that lies at the heart of the conservation of this aspect of the town’s heritage today” Cllr Frankie Keena, Treasurer of the Group, remarked.
“The vegetation clearance, approved by the National Monuments Service, has allowed us see the site’s surviving glory for the first time in years, thanks to the hard work of Finnegan Tree Services”, Mr. Johnny Duncan, representing Malachi Cullen Consulting Engineers who are overseeing the project, enthused.
“This project is being completed for the community and reflects the growing interest in community heritage projects within the county. It’s part of a bigger plan for the Connaught side of Athlone under the Urban Regeneration Scheme being spearheaded by Westmeath County Council,” Melanie McQuade, Heritage Officer with Westmeath County Council., commented.
The gun battery is the smallest of eight former gun batteries and the sole survivor over the last two hundred years. Dr. Eoin Sullivan (Gort Archaeology ) who is providing archaeological services for the project with the input of Richard McLoughlin as Conservation Architect (Lotts Architecture and Urbanism ) points out that as you stand on the hill today, you see the bridge over the Shannon, but you have to picture in the past a wide River Shannon, with no canal, few trees and people watching for any skirmishing soldiers hoping to cross the river to attack on the flank.
The progress and stages of the conservation are being filmed for communication and digital archival purposes, noted Mary Hamilton while thanking Creative Ireland Westmeath for approving their funding application earlier in the year.
“Our Heritage Week Guided walk in 2019 stopped at the canal, we hope that in 2021 we’ll be in a position to welcome a guided tour around the gun battery and invite them to step back 200 years in Athlone’s military history” Cllr Frankie Keena concluded.