The name An Móta is derived from the term motte-and-bailey as the Normans built an example of this type of fortification here (date TBC). The earthwork is still visible behind the buildings on the main street.
The town later became an important marketplace and Quaker village. There are several extant examples of Quaker houses on the main street, which itself is typical of an Irish marketplace (similar example in Ballymahon).
The town is situated the R446 road between just beyond Kinnegad to just before Athlone. Until July 2008, this was the N6 road, a national primary route. Moate was a serious traffic bottleneck as traffic on Fridays lead to 5 km tailbacks. However, the M6 motorway now bypasses the town. A disused railway runs through the town, built by the Midland Great Western Railway to connect Dublin and Galway (now served by another route).
Athlone is 15 km west, along the N6.
Moate is a growing town with many new businesses being attracted to it, including a supermarket, hardware store, internet café / computer shop, and over twelve public houses. It has been the site of many new building ventures in recent years, for example at the site of the old convent there now stands a complex of apartments and shops.
Moate is the birthplace of artist and academic Nuala Holloway. She specialises mainly in oils, covering a wide range of subject matter. In 2006 Ms. Holloway held her first solo art exhibition at Tuar Ard Arts Centre in Moate. Ms. Holloway is also well known for currently being the only woman from Co. Westmeath to become Miss Ireland and for being a pioneer in the Irish modelling industry who appeared as a fashion and photographic model in the late 1970s and 1980s.
The town has a strong musical tradition with many young bands emerging from the town. It is the home of country singers Tony Allen (of the duo, Foster & Allen) TR Dallas and Ray Lynam. It is also the location of a recording studio that caters for all types of music. New performers on the pub scene are the rock bands Merge, Filmore East & Lesser Self.
The town's theatre and arts centre is called 'Tuar Ard' and was once the site of the St. Patricks Hall. It is a venue for plays, seminars, classical and rock concerts, and presentations.
The Dun na Sí heritage centre on the west side of town includes a genealogy centre, recreations of various types of indigenous dwellings, and preserved farm machinery.
The former gaol, part of the old courthouse, contains a small museum housing artifacts found in the area dating from the Stone Age through to the modern era.
The principle secondary school in the town is Moate Community School, which opened a new building in 2002 containing a gymnasium, four new science labs, a home economics room, art room, lecture hall, technical drawing classroom and an oratory as well as general classrooms and offices. It has approximately 1,000 students (including Moate Business College) and a staff of 72. Moate Business College, which is a PLC college, provides courses including performance arts to information technology.