The first place you should visit in the town is the small but the perfectly formed Athy Heritage Centre-Museum (adult/student/child €3/€2.50/€2; 10am-5pm Mon-Fri). Instead of dealing with the local history in a simple linear manner it focuses on four themes that provide insight into the town and its personalities. One of the exhibitions focuses on local man and all round Antarctic legend, Sir Ernest Shackleton. If you’re around in October make sure you attend the Ernest Shackelton Autumn School. In addition to an extensive programme of lectures, there are exhibitions, music recitals, documentaries and excursions focusing on Shackelton and others who first entered the frozen continent.
Once you’ve finished your visit to the museum, the best way to get to know the town is by going on one of the historic walks. There are three trails, laid out along green (1.6km), red (1.8km) and blue (3km) routes. The first thing you’ll see is Whites Castle, an early 15th century town fortress. Standing guard over the Crom a Boo Bridge, the castle was built by the Viceroy Lord Furnival in 1417 to protect the river crossing. The medieval bridge is now gone. However, what stands in its place is a fine Georgian structure constructed in the mid 18th century. Just a few hundred yards away, across the River Barrow in the area immediately behind Pettitt’s Supermarket, are the remains of Woodstock Castle. The castle was erected in the 14th century to replace an earlier wooden structure.
The Dominican Church off Duke Street was opened in 1965 and is a fine example of modern Church architecture. The hyperbolic parabolic structure houses Stations of the Cross and stained glass by the noted Irish artist George Campbell and an elongated crucifix carved by Bríd Ní Rinn.On the opposite side of the Church across the River Barrow immediately behind the Courthouse is the site of the medieval Friars Monastery of St. Dominic’s. The Dominicans came to Athy in 1257 and despite periods of absence due to religious prosecution they still minister to the local community. Not far from the Courthouse is St. John’s Cemetery. In its grounds are the only remains of the Monastery of St. John’s and the Hospital of St. Thomas which was established in the 13th century.
If you can’t stop walking, there is a beautiful and pleasant 22km walk on the Grand Canal town path to Monasterevan. If that’s a bit too much, you could always turn back halfway up at Vicarstown.