World Traveller, Actress and Playwright June Favre’s views of Athenry and its people.
The green, moist landscape of Ireland is as far removed from the arid mountain panorama around my home in Denver, Colorado, as the many – varied careers I have undertaken in my life, including restaurant-owner, actress, playwright, and writing instructor. I have worked Harry Belafonte Carol Channing and acted in a film with Harrison Ford.
In 1998 I embarked on a college career, earning a Baccalaureate Degree in 2001 from Metropolitan State in Denver. An intriguing Master’s Degree programme in Drama and Theatre Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway came to my attention. I was accepted for the 2001-2002 term.
During that year it was necessary to live in Galway City to accommodate class times. In September I would begin working on a PhD, and frustrated by the high price and poor quality of accommodations on offer in Galway City, I searched for housing as far-flung as Athlone, with visits to Ballinasloe, Aughrim and Oranmore. Dependent upon public transportation, regular bus and/or train service was crucial.
My first brief visit to Athenry was in the spring 2002. I stopped in at Caheroyan House, which was undergoing major renovations. To my disappointment owner Barbara Coyne told me that they would not have anything available until September. While wandering around the town I asked directions from a woman working in her garden and was invited in for coffee and a chat with her, her husband and her neighbour – Professor and Mrs. Etienne Rynne and Mrs. John Walls. I couldn’t imagine this happening to a stranger in Galway. Athenry seemed the ideal spot for me with an adequate train and bus service, but, unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any available accomodations.
A dismal summer followed in a cold house shared with four others in Galway City and those lodgings available only until September. I kept up my search in Galway, and finally on a sunny August afternoon, I was shown a room that would best be described as a monk’s cell, approximately two by three metres, furnished with a narrow bed and a small wardrobe with bath down the hall shared by six other rooms. This bleak arrangement was going for the princely sum of €100 a week. Although I was becoming desperate, I wasn’t that desperate.
That day a friend drove me to Athenry and Caheroyan House. Construction was still going on and Barbara said it would be the third or fourth week in September before there would be anything available. I very much wanted to live, so there my decision was easy, even if it would be necessary to spend a few days at a B & B to bridge the time from leaving the house in Galway till the accommodation at Caheroyan House was ready, a small sacrifice for future comfort. This turned out to be a blessing giving me the opportunity to spend ten delightful days at Mount Amber B & B.
It is really unfair to compare Galway City with Athenry. After all, Galway doesn’t have a bakery that can compare to The Yellow Mill on Cross Street. Letters and packages sent and received arrive at their destinations twice as quickly as happened in Galway City. L have yet to be shoved rudely off a footpath in Athenry, and without exception, l have been greeted with a smile and a ‘How are ye?’ wherever I go.
The relief of being away from the traffic, litter and noise of Galway City is hard to describe. l know Athenry residents think there is entirely too much litter here and the traffic increases almost weekly, but hopefully, it will be a very long time before it sinks to the level encountered in Galway City. There we have it, less traffic, less noise, less litter, good postal service, great bakery, but that isn’t all.
There is also a wonderful mix of the historic and modern. A walk on the green adjoining the Norman castle, quiet minutes at the Lady’s Well, a round of golf, a hurling match or an afternoon angling are all there to be enjoyed. The proximity to many of the glories of western Ireland adds to the attractiveness of Athenry – The Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Coole Park, Connemara. But for those interested in archaeology and history, Athenry is filled with treasures. In addition to the thirteenth century Norman castle, there are the remains of the town walls that enclosed almost seventy acres, one gate – the North Gate – remains virtually intact, the ruins of the Dominican Priory with its collection of medieval grave stones, the Market Cross (c. ﬁfteenth century) in the town square, and two medieval bridges spanning the Clareen River.
I have enjoyed all these sights, but most of all, I am grateful to the citizens of Athenry for their warm reception. I have lived in or visited many places as diverse as Mexico and Ethiopia, but never have I felt as welcome as I have in Athenry. Friends in Europe and the United States scarcely believe me when I tell them of the many pleasures and conveniences available here. I can only encourage them to come and see for themselves.
June Favre PhD student, NUI-Galway, Caheroyan House Athenry.
Written by June Favre
Published here 12 Feb 2024 and originally published Summer 2003