||Athlone is located close to the geographical centre of Ireland, on the border of two counties, Roscommon and Westmeath.
Although the River Shannon, which runs through the town, forms the historic border between County Roscommon and County Westmeath, Much of the town is designated as belonging to Westmeath, including areas west of the river.
Much recent growth has occurred outside the official town boundaries.
Monksland for example, a suburb on the west side of the town, is not within the official town boundaries, yet is the most populous area of County Roscommon.
Given its central location, Athlone is a natural hub for transport, with frequent bus and rail schedules.
The railway station which opened on 3 October 1859, services the main Galway to Dublin and Dublin to Westport/Ballina lines.
Bus Eireann, the national bus operator, operates from beside the train station and covers most towns and cities in the country, including an hourly service to Dublin and Galway.
Other private operators also provide services to some towns and cities.
Bus ireann also operates a local Athlone bus service.
The town is also home to a number of privately operated services, including the Flagline bus company.
Taxi service is widely available throughout the area.
The town is situated on the N6 road connecting Galway to Dublin with various smaller roads connecting from other areas.
The new M6 motorway now connects the town directly to Dublin, cutting traveling and commuting time considerably.
The 2006 census records the population of the town at 17,544, although this does not include some outlying suburbs.
The town has also been described as "the commercial capital of the Irish Midlands.
It is the largest town in County Westmeath, although Mullingar remains the administrative capital of the county.
The River Shannon runs through Athlone and the town is a popular stopping spot for people passing through on cruisers, many of whom stop off at the main marina.
This traffic undoubtedly is a huge boost to the tourist and commercial life of the town, as are the visitors to the lakes.
Lough Ree, the largest lake on the Shannon, is a short distance from Athlone to the north of the town.
The lake shore is easily accessed from Coosan Point, and Hodson Bay.
Athlone is the main retail centre in the Midlands, and Golden Island Shopping Centre attracts shoppers from a wide radius.
There was also the smaller Texas Shopping Centre.
Another large-scale development opened on November 1st 2007.
Athlone Town Centre comprises two internal streets, with 54 shops and a hotel, and is the largest shopping and leisure centre in Ireland, outside Dublin.
There are numerous top-class hotels and resorts in and around Athlone and accommodation of all standards is widely available.
One is spoilt for choice in food, drink and entertainment.
Seans Bar, located on the west bank of the river, is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest pub in the British Isles.
Other popular attractions for visitors are the Glendeer Open Farm and the Viking Cruise of the Shannon.
The town's tourist office is located at Athlone Castle, in the town centre.
Athlone has a musical and drama tradition.
There are three theatres in the town, all very active.
The RTE All-Ireland Drama Festival takes place annually in Athlone, and brings together nine amateur drama groups from across Ireland.
The festival is supported by active fringe events for young people.
Count John Mc Cormack was born in Athlone and an annual festival celebrates this world-renowned tenor.
The Athlone School of Music opened in October 2005, and is a grant aided project aimed at developing music education and services in the Midlands region.
At the heart of Athlone, is the imposing Castle.
The ford of Athlone was strategically important, as south of Athlone the Shannon is impassable until Clonmacnoise and north is Lough Ree.
In 1001 Brian Boru led his army from Kincora into the town, his fleet sailing up the river via Lough Derg to attend a gathering.
A bridge was built across the river in the 12th century, approximately 100 metres south of the current bridge.
To protect this, a fort was constructed on the west bank in the town by Turloch Mr Conor.
On a number of occasions both the fort and bridge were subject to attacks, and towards the end of the 12th century the Anglo-Normans constructed a motte-and -bailey fortification here.
This was superseded by a stone structure built in 1210 by Justiciar John Gray.
The 12-sided donjon dates from this time.
The rest of the castle was largely destroyed during the Siege of Athlone and subsequently rebuilt and enlarged.
During the wars that racked Ireland in the seventeenth century, Athlone held a vital position, holding the main bridge over the River Shannon into Connacht.
In the Irish Confederate Wars (16411653), the town was held by Irish Confederate troops until it was taken late in 1650 by Charles Coote, who attacked the town from the west, having crossed into Connacht at Sligo.
Forty years later, during the Williamite War, the town was again of central strategic importance, being one of the Jacobite strongholds on the defending their position after they had retreated west after the Battle of the Boyne.
At the first battle of Athlone in 1690 the Jacobite forces of Colonel Richard Grace repelled an attack by 10,000 men lead by Commander Douglas.
The following year the Siege of Athlone saw a further assault in which the troops of King William 111 eventually prevailed against the outnumbered defenders.