The community was dependent on agriculture and a creamery was built near the river which acted as the centrepoint for local trade. A primary school was built near the creamary to cope with the rising younger population. Over time, cottages and workshops lined the main road to create the village of Athea. New local roads were built to neighbouring Moyvane and off the main Listowel-Limerick and Glin-Abbeyfeale roads. The river was the primary water source as well as its use for drainage.
The Catholic population were forbidden to practice their faith under British rule. For this reason the first church wasn't built in Athea until the early 19th century. Locals did congregate each Sunday at a Mass rock east of the village.
Athea is situated on the river Galey and the crossroads of the R523 (Reens - Listowel) and R524 (Glin - Abbeyfeale) regional roads. It is a 3 km east of the Limerick/Kerry border in the rolling hills of west Limerick and is one of the highest settlements in the county. Its highest point is in the Parkanna townland where, at 220 m above sea level, surrounding towns and counties can be seen.
The river Galey is a tributary to the larger River Cashen. The name is derived from the Gaelic "Abhainn na Gáile", River of the Gaille, a tribe who lived along its banks. In times of heavy rain, especially in winter, the river swells up over its banks causing floods which can last for days. There are two bridges across the river; the R523/R524 intersection bridge just east of the village and Barry's Bridge, 2 km northwest of the village. Ducks and swans can be seen under the main bridge and the bank has been transformed into a peaceful spot in recent times where locals have the opportunity to sit and feed the ducks and admire the natural beauty since a clean-up was completed.
Due to its location in the southwest of Ireland, Athea is very much influenced by the North Atlantic Drift. It has a mild climate, the average daily maximum temperature in July is 20 °C (68 °F) and the average daily minimum in January is 4 °C (39 °F).
Athea suffered severe flooding in the summer of 2008 with residences sustaining serious damage especially along the river Galey. Athea National School also incurred minor damage.
The parish is gently undulating with predominantly brown earth soils, greatly suited to pastoral farming. Nestled in the hills of West Limerick, Athea is one of the highest points in the county. The area is well drained with many streams and smaller rivers flowing into the larger River Galey.
Colbert Street and Dalton Street make up the streetscape of the town. The Parish of Athea is the largest in County Limerick, surpassing even Limerick city in size. St. Bartholomew's Church is located on Colbert Street and the village has two graveyards, Holy Cross on the outskirts of the village and The "Old Graveyard" in Templeathea just over a mile away. The village has been suffering economically in recent years. Business closures are slowly downgrading the social status the town once had. Pubs, shops and the local petrol station are some of the hardest hit establishments.
In recent years, new housing estates have been built in or around the village, reviving local jobs. The local pharmacy and post office have moved location and come under new management. Two beauty salons have also been established, contributing to local employment.
In recent years the village has made significant improvements such as the refurbishment of the local community centre (Con Colbert Memorial Hall) and the building of a footbridge across the river Galey.
The Memorial Hall is the location of most meetings, sports events and other gatherings among locals. Over the last few years it has undergone a major extension which saw the installation of a state-of-the-art sports complex. The cost of the renovation neared €1 million and despite charity donations, government grants and other fundraising efforts, the community hall committee is still faced with a large debt which has been decreasing each year due to fund raising activities carried out by the committee. Today, the Hall is home to the local basketball team, the Athea Vixens and Athea GAA frequently take advantage of its indoor sports facilities.
Athea's only pedestrian bridge was opened by Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick, in 2005. The bridge is located next to the existing road bridge at the intersection of the R523/R524 roads. It had been proposed for years for the local school pupils who were crossing the busy road bridge and was seen as a health and safety hazard sharing the bridge with cars. The bridge is 2m wide and 11m long. It was commissioned by Athea Community Council Ltd. who have raised €260,000. The debt was reduced to €27,000 by the "Lucky Numbers" drawings, held Saturday nights.
St. Bartholomew's Roman Catholic Church is arguably the centrepiece of the town's architecture. It is located on the main street and was built in 1832. It underwent renovations in 1862 and 1986/87. The church spire can be seen from all approach roads to the village. The church bell can be heard in many parts of the parish; it sounds daily at 12:00 and 18:00 for the Angelus as well as funerals and Mass times (09:00 and 19:30 weekdays & Saturday, 09:00 and 11:00 Sundays). The church is headed by Fr. Paddy Bowen PP and Canon Patrick Kelly PE.
Athea NS is located in Templeathea, just east of the village centre. It was built in 1921 with an original capacity of 100 students. A large extension to the school was officially opened by Bishop of Limerick Dr. Donal Murray on Sunday 22 March 2009. Today's building houses five classrooms with toilet facilities in each room, a principal's office, a secretary's office, a library, a computer room and a preschool. The school is headed by the Athea National School Board of Management chaired by Canon Kelly. The current principal is Mrs. Margaret Watters.
The creamery at the top of the street was once the centre of the local economy, at a time when agriculture was Athea's primary economic activity. The demise of the industry lead to its closure in the late 1990s.
Across the road at the Y junction is Browne's Shop and post office which was residence of the local landlord in the early 19th century. It is believed he built his house at the top of the street so he could look down on the village when he wished.
The Goold Monument, located in Upper Athea commemorates James Goold, a landlord who, at the time of the Great Famine refused to evict tenants who couldn't pay rent. A 4 m high Celtic cross stands just off the road at the left on the way to Listowel.
The Olympic Statue, colloquially called "the feet" is a monument in The Square commemorating two Irish olympic medalists who were originally from Athea. These medalists took part in the 1916 games (the year of the Easter Rising). The sculpture depicts two golden feet with wings spread out, standing for opportunity.
The large parish of Athea is divided into 25 townlands:Athea Lower [Áth an tSléibhe Íochtair - the fort of the mountain]
Athea Upper [Áth an tSléibhe Uachtar - the fort of the mountain]
Clash North [An Chlais - the trench]
Clash South [An Chlais - the trench]
Coole East [An Chúil - the corner]
Coole West [An Chúil - the corner]
Cratloe East [An Chreatalach - a sallow wood]
Cratloe West [An Chreatalach - a sallow wood]
Direen Lower [An Doirín - the small thicket]
Direen Upper [An Doirín - the small thicket]
Dromada [Drom Fhada - long ridge]
Glashapullagh [Glaise an Phollaigh - the stream of the place of holes]
Glenagore [Gleann an Ghabhair - the glen of the goat]
Gortnagross [Gort na gCros - the field of the crosses]
Keale North [An Caol - the narrow feature]
Keale South [An Caol - the narrow feature]
Knockdown [Cnoc Donn - brown hill]
Knockfinisk [Cnoc Finnisce - hill of bright water]
Knocknagorna [Cnoc na gCoirneach - the hill of the clerics]
Parkanna [An Pháirc - the field]
Rooskagh [Rúscach - marshy place]
Templeathea East [Teampaill an tSléibhe - The church of the mountain]
Templeathea West [Teampaill an tSléibhe - The church of the mountain]
Tooradoo [Na Tuara Dubha - the black animal enclosures]
Tooreendonnell [Tuairín Dónaill - the small animal enclosure of Dónall]
Source: Diocese of Limerick
Athea, like most Irish settlements is home to a wide array of traditional Irish music and dancing. Traditional Irish singer Con Greaney is from Athea. Pub culture is a large element of social life with up to 12 pubs in the village in the 1990s. Also like many other towns, Athea has had its influx of immigrants from the UK, USA, Poland and China whose cultures are also celebrated.
From the 1960s many people from the area emigrated to the UK, USA and Australia. Since then the village has strong links with cities like New York and Chicago as well as many UK cities. Today a lot of young people from Athea take "a year out" to live and work abroad with Australia being the preferred country.
The pubs in Athea village have events most weekends drawing locals into the town. Pub quizzes, card games, karaoke and traditional music competitions are held regularly. Annually large events such as the Athea Motorcycle Road Races, Vintage Rally and TradFéile are held during summer months drawing large crowds to Athea.
This is an annual event which draws thousands to the village each June. It is considered very important to the local economy and in 2007 an estimated 18,000 descended on the village according to Gardaí. The Motor Cycle Races are a two-day event taking place on a Saturday and Sunday at the end of June. The races attract spectators from all over Ireland, the UK and even further afield. Names such as Martin Finnegan and William Dunlop have taken part in the event in the past. A fun fair is usually brought to the village the week before the festival.
Gaelic football and soccer are the two most common sports in Athea with each having its own complex. Basketball is also a popular pastime.
Athea GAA recently had its pitch and clubhouse refurbished and games take place during the summer months. The team colours are maroon and white, reflecting the colours of the Athea flag. The club is located in Templeathea, 1 km east of the village on the R523. Athea Credit Union are the primary sponsors of the club.
Athea United Athletic Football Club is the local soccer establishment and moved to a new site in 2000. The club recently installed Synthetic Field Grass and has invested heavily into its amenities. The team colours are blue and white. The clubhouse and pitch are located in Lower Dirreen (on the Glin Road (R524) )Games take place during the winter months and the Top of the Town bar is the top sponsor.
The Athea Blazers were formed in 2005 and has been growing since its inception. Its base is at Con Colbert Memorial Hall where all of its home games are played. Games take place year-round and the team colours are red and blue.
Fishing is also popular along the river and at Glashia Lake, an artificial trout-lake at Blaine Cross.
The village has many green areas in which locals can admire the beauty of the scenic countryside.
This is a housing estate in the centre of Athea village that also contains a green area for recreation.
This is a walk from the Memorial Hall to Holy Cross Cemetery in Templeathea. It is named after a legend that incorporates a giant carrying his deceased mother on his shoulders to be buried. The walk kept with trees and flowers complementing the scenery of the surrounding hillside. The Giant's Garden overlooks Athea Village as well as the rolling hills and river southwest of the village.
The village was the setting for the local drama sequel Hard Times which released three videos in the early first decade of the 21st century. The dramas used local actors and was an instant hit with residents and neighbouring towns.
The Athea & District News newsletter is published by local print company Cáirde Dúchais on a weekly basis. It features local columnists discussing lifestyle issues which affect local people as well as current affairs. It also contains articles for the neighbouring towns of Knockdown, Carrigkerry and Abbeyfeale.
The Weekly Observer newspaper which contains articles for towns over much of west Limerick has an "Athea Notes" column resulting in it being a household newspaper in Athea.
In 2007, Lisa Murtagh, whose mother is an Athea native, was crowned 48th Rose of Tralee. She was representing New York but acknowledged that Athea was her "second home" in her speech at the pageant in 2008.
In the 2009 pageant, contestant Sinéad Lynch, representing the US state of Georgia, also has connections to Athea on her father's side. The competition is scheduled to run from 21–26 August.
Athea is no longer the active marketplace it once was. Numerous shops and pubs have closed as bigger chains have opened in the larger towns. There were once three petrol stations in the village; all three have now closed. Although there have been closures in Athea, more people have moved to the area and the village is still growing with housing estates still proposed for the outskirts and being currently built in the Village Centre.
Athea is no longer dependant on agribusiness as its primary source of income. The majority of local people today are employed in the services industry, some commuting long distances to work - even as far away as Limerick.
The main enterprises in the village today are The Gables Complex, a catering and hospitality establishment serving large portions of West Limerick and beyond, as well as the bar industry which has five pubs in total. The Gables Complex has been closed for a good few weeks now, with no sign of it re-opening anytime soon.the manager Connie Herbert, has taken hold of a Hotel establishment in Co. Tipperary.
O' Halloran's Garden Centre is a popular garden centre for the whole region employing a number of people and is located on the Abbeyfeale Road. There is also an animal park on site which is free to visit, it is home to donkeys, sheep, goats and poultry.
In the 2006 census, the population of the parish was 2,086 with 110 of these living in the village and 1,977 in its environs. Approx. 93% of the population are native Irish with the remaining 7% mostly foreign immigrants such as from Poland and China.
Athea is predominantly Roman Catholic though a small percentage of residents belong to the Church of Ireland faith. Weekend mass is the centrepoint for practicing Catholics. However a decline of church-goers has occurred in recent times with just 40% of locals regularly attending mass.
While the village is governed by the state and the local County Council, the church still has a large influence in this area with much financing for local projects being sought from the church. It also has a significant say in the running of the local primary school.
The village has one Garda station and is policed by two Gardaí.
Athea is situated in the constituency of Limerick West; the parish itself is subdivided into two electoral areas - the Newcastlewest electoral area (predominantly south of the river Galey) and the Rathkeale electoral area (north of the river) which are used mainly in local elections. At European level, Athea is in the constituency of Ireland South. At election times, the school is used as the polling station.
The primary school - Athea National School (Athea NS) - was built in 1921. Prior to this, a small thatched schoolhouse was located centrally in the village (now no longer in use). The local Church has a significant say in the running of the school and the Board of Management is chaired by a local priest.
Although there are no post-primary schools in Athea, bus transport is available to secondary schools in nearby Abbeyfeale (St. Ita's, St. Joseph's and Abbeyfeale Vocational School) and Tarbert (Tarbert Comprehensive).
Most popular colleges and universities for Athea students include the University of Limerick and University College Cork.
The village holds two medical clinics. Westbury Medical Centre is located just outside the town on the R523 to Listowel. A smaller clinic is on Dalton Street and is owned and operated by the Mid Western Health Board. When the local clinics are closed, a 24-hour service serving all of west Limerick is available - ShannonDoc - which comes to the home in an emergency.
The Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick and Kerry General Hospital in Tralee are the closest emergency rooms to Athea.
Only 20% of Athea has a high-speed broadband connection. However, in June 2009 Limerick County Council announced it was to install broadband service for most of the parish in the near future in conjunction with the mobile phone operator 3. For areas of the parish with no broadband service, mobile phone operators Vodafone and O2 offer high-speed internet access through their mobile phone signal. This is not broadband however, and a dial-up connection is still needed.
Satellite and cable tevevision is available in most parts with all televisions automatically receiving the signal of national broadcaster RTÉ.
A Limerick-Tralee bus service operates via Athea every Wednesday. There are many local Hackney services available especially at weekends. There are 2 airports within an hour of Athea: Kerry Airport and Shannon Airport serving international destinations. The closest train stations to Athea are the Colbert Station in Limerick city and Charleville in County Cork.
Electricity is provided by the ESB or Bord Gáis Energy to all residences.
Each household has two waste bins; one for landfill waste and the other for recycling. South West Bins Ltd. collects these bins each week with landfill waste being collected one week and recycled waste being collected the next.
There are no gas lines in the area and so gas has to be purchased in cylinders. Heating energy is gotten mainly from coal, oil and peat. There are bogs dispersed around the parish where peat is harvested into turf for heating.