Fords played an important role in ancient Ireland as roads were at best rough tracks and rivers which were important landmarks were crossed by fords. Athy was an important fording point on the river Barrow. This is confirmed by the quantity of archaeological objects retrieved from the bed of the river in the 1920s. These included Neolithic axeheads, Bronze Age swords and spearheads and a variety of Iron Age tools. There is no evidence, however, of a settlement at the ford until the latter end of the twelfth century.
Athy is now one of Irelands designated heritage towns.