The Barrow. Our River Your Journey

Athy heritage centre

To Contact

Athy Heritage Centre-Museum
T: +353 (0)59 8633075
A: Town Hall
Emily Square
Co Kildare

Opening Hours:

Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

For guided tours please book in advance.

Admission charge applies.

Athy Heritage Centre-Museum

Athy is a designated Heritage Town of Ireland and the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum focuses on the history of the town and surrounding area from its Anglo Norman foundation, through to the 1903 Gordon Bennett Race, to Athy men and their involvement in World War 1 and the story of local polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Athy Heritage Centre-Museum has the only permanent exhibition anywhere devoted to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Born at Kilkea House, near Athy in 1874, Shackleton joined Captain Scott’s Discovery expedition in 1901 – 1904 and went on to lead three of his own expeditions to the Antartic. The Endurance 1914 – 1916 has become one of the greatest epics of human survival. The exhibition highlights include an original sledge and harness from one of his Antarctic expeditions, a 15-foot model of Shackleton’s ship ‘Endurance’, an exhibition of unique Shackleton family photographs and an audio visual display featuring Frank Hurley’s original film footage of the Endurance expedition.

The Heritage Centre-Museum hosts an annual Ernest Shackleton Autumn School over the October Bank Holiday weekend. It provides a forum for the discussion of polar exploration and the presentation of artistic work relevant to Shackleton and polar exploration.

Other exhibitions within the museum include the Gordon Bennett Rally, which, when held in 1903 was centred on Athy. James Gordon Bennett, proprietor of the New York Herald, presented in 1900 a trophy for an international car race. The first Gordon Bennett motor race took place in France in 1900. In 1902 the race was won by the Englishman Selwyn Edge in his napier car and, in accordance with the competition rules, England was to host the 1903 race. So strong was the opposition to racing in England that the organisers looked to Ireland for a suitable racecourse and legislation was passed to allow the race to take place in this country. The exhibition here is a must for Gordon Bennett route followers, as it features contemporary film footage and artefacts from the race.

Gordon Bennett original car

An overview of the involvement of Athy men in World War 1 together with details on Athy’s eccelsiastical history is also presented within the displays.

History of Athy Town Hall

Built in or about 1730 as a Market house and Courthouse, it marked the transition from village to market town of the twelfth century Anglo-Norman settlement. The two carved symbols of justice entwined with the Crown of England and the Harp of Ireland on the northern wall of the building indicate it’s past use as a courthouse. Lord Norbury commonly called ‘the Hanging Judge’ presided at criminal trials in this building before and after the 1798 Rebellion.

The bell on the Town Hall is from the former St. Michael’s Church of Ireland once located to the rear of the Town Hall and bears the date 1682. The original building, which may have been designed by Cassels, who designed Leinster House and Carton House, was extensively enlarged at the turn of the 19th century.

It is now the location of Athy Heritage Centre-Museum and Athy Library.