ROSCOMMON V WESTMEATH THE BARONY OF ATHLONE AND THE BARONY OF BRAWNY

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Before the Local Government Act of 1898 which created County Councils and Urban and Rural District Councils,Athlone was divided between the counties of Roscommon and Westmeath.

Pre 1898,each county was divided into a number of baronies and these baronies served local administrative units. The Barony of Athlone was actually in Co Roscommon and included the urban areas of the town west of the Shannon.

The Leinster side of the town was in the Co Westmeath Barony of Brawny. The Local Government Act created Athlone District Council (replacing the earlier Town Commission,which had been set up in the 1840s and had replaced the fabulously corrupt Athlone Corporation.)

The UDC took in all the urban areas of Athlone west of the river and incorporated them into the County Westmeath for administrative purposes. At this stage,of course,the urban area was much smaller than it is now.Athlone UDC was a rating authority with a degree of autonomy from Westmeath County Council in that it had its own budget. This situation continued until the abolition of the Town Council in 2014.

TWO CONSTITUENCIES

From the 1600s until 1885,Athlone was a parliamentary Borough-electing members to the Irish and -after 1801,the UK Parliament. The Athlone seat was abolished in 1885 and thereafter  voters west of the Shannon were in South Roscommon constituency and voters east of the river were in South Westmeath.

The urban area west of the river eventually ended up in the Longford-Westmeath constituency (Westmeath from 1992 to 2007).From 1937 to 1948  all of Athlone town was in a weird constituency sprawling across three counties and two provinces called Athlone-Longford. As of now the rural/suburban areas of Connaught which the Westmeath County Council wish to annex are in the Roscommon South Leitrim constituency.

TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS

The Athlone born novelist John Broderick had no illusions about the gap created by the Shannon and two millenia old provincial identities in his native town.
“Athlone is two towns. Leinster people  talk about going over to the Connaught side as if they were  talking about going to China,while the Connaught people  talk about going to the Leinster side as if they were going to the red light district of Amsterdam.”

THE COUNTY OF LUAIN

According to the  great Athlone journalist Jimmy Spollen,the legendary  Dean Crowe of St Peter’s Parish,dreamed of the creation of a new county to be called Luain. This was in the 1930s,when Dean Crowe was overseeing the building of the new SS Peter and Paul Church.The County of Luain would embrace South Westmeath and South Roscommon.

Athlone would be the county town (or even city),and the new church would be the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul.! Which province the new county would be in is not clear. Perhaps it would have become a new fifth province-embracing Uisneach,the Royal Assembly centre of the ancient province of Mide.!

TWIN CITIES;  AMERICAN EXAMPLES

The Westmeath Council argument in favour of annexing parts of Roscommon/Connaught appears to be based on the argument that it will make for tidier and more efficient administration. But there are examples in other countries of places where an overriding Metropolitan area does not mean the loss of local autonomy or annexations.

The Twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul form one Metropolitan district and work closely together in many fields.But each city retains its own identity and local administration. The city of Boston is at the heart of a Metropolitan area  with a poulation larger than the island of Ireland.

But when you cross the Charles River from Boston into Cambridge,you are in a different city. Cambridge has its own city council and mayor and local taxes and administration and is not in the same electoral district as Boston in either the Commonwealth Assembly of Massachusetts or the U S Congress.

Likewise,in Britain it may be noted that the City of Salford has managed to keep a degree of autonomy form its big neighbour Manchester,although both cities are part of the Metropolitan County of Greater Manchester.The River Irwall seperates the two cities.

Within the urban and suburban sprawl of modern Dublin county,Dun Laoghaire,Fingal and South Dublin have avoided being annexed by the City Council and the fact that the suburban sprawl of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown almost merges into Bray has not been used to suggest that Bray and other parts of Wicklow should be annexed to DLR .

RUTH ILLINGWORTH
HISTORIAN