The Hill of Slane is famous for its role as the place from which St Patrick first defied the pagan Kings. The story goes that one day in AD433, possibly in spring around the time of the festival of Bealtaine, as darkness fell across the land, King Laoighaire prepared his Druids to light the sacred bonfires at the royal site of Tara.

However, before they could do so, a golden bud of flame burst forth on the distant hill of Slane. Furious that such a sacred rite could be so flagrantly disregarded, the King sent his warriors and a number of Druids to extinguish the fire and bring the culprit to him.

The fire was not put out, however. The Druids claimed that Patrick’s power was mightier than theirs, and they were unable to extinguish it. They warned the King that if St Patrick’s fire was not put out, it would burn forevermore in Ireland.

Impressed with the stranger’s magic, and the strength of his religious conviction, Laoighaire allowed Patrick to continue his mission. Even stranger, Erc, the King’s chief Druid and adviser was so enamoured of Patrick’s might, that he converted to Christianity at once, and became the first Bishop of Slane.

Surprisingly, Erc was said to have been buried under a dolmen, the remains of which can still be seen in the graveyard at Slane today. This is a decidedly un-Christian burial more in line with his pagan roots. Which begs the question, why? If the remaining stones really are what is left of a dolmen, of course, and I’m not convinced that they are. I’ll let you decide.

Wherever there is a Christian church, there was once a pagan sacred site before it, and Slane is no exception. In amongst the trees to the west of the hill lies a motte of Norman origin upon which once stood a castle. Beneath this motte there is a burial mound believed to be that of Sláine, a king of the FirBolg.

It was Sláine who was responsible for clearing the land so that the mounds of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth could be built. Quite a legacy.

Sláine, son of Dela, was said to be the first High King of Ireland. He landed at Wexford Harbour at the mouth of the River Slaney with his four brothers and 5000 men. They carved Ireland into five provinces and ruled one each, with Sláine ruling over them all. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long: he died at Dind Ríg in Co Carlow and was carried back to Slane to be buried. He was succeeded by his brother Rudraige.

Newgrange and Knowth can be seen from Slane, and the Hill of Tara is only shrouded from view by a belt of woodland. Clearly, this area was once a very significant one.

According to legend, a holy well is located near Sláine’s mound, which was used as a well of healing by the Tuatha de Danann for their warriors during battle, much like that of Heapstown Cairn at Moytura.

Sadly, the mound and well lie beyond sight on private land, and cannot be accessed by the public.  I have heard that there are some large trees growing through the motte and mound, and that their roots are causing terrible damage. There does not seem to be any plan in place to repair the damage in the near future, so once again, a precious site of enormous value to Irish heritage is being allowed to crumble into obscurity.

A tomb with a view. You can see Newgrange, Knowth, Tara environs, the town of Drogheda, the Mary Macalees Bridge, the sea...
A tomb with a view. You can see Newgrange (red arrow), Knowth, Tara environs (yellow arrow), the town of Drogheda, the Mary Macalees Bridge, the sea…

Despite this, a visit to Slane is well worth it. The remains of the church, its tower, and the monastic college are impressive, and the uninterrupted views of the spreading landscape under a big sky just make you want to soar! The atmosphere is serene, and the light and energy of the site is compelling.


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29 thoughts on “The Hill of Slane | Faces in Strange Places

  1. I had no idea that Slane was so connected to Newgrange, Knowth and Tara. I must have been missing at school that day. Every year. For 12 years 😉

    Brilliant post! That view from Slane is something very special indeed.

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  2. You capture the Irish imagination like no other Ali ~ and this story of St. Patrick and the myth of the Hill of Slane is just another burning example (pun intended)… Brilliant prose to go along with the imagery of your photographs which seems to highlight what Erc might have seen and experienced which made him convert. As you say, the remains at Slane are worth a visit themselves, but the landscape you show is another…

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    1. You are too kind, Randall. I think I need to do a basic photography course so I can do what I see better justice. I only had my phone with me. It has a good little camera, but the light was so bright and the contrast too great, and I didn’t know how to fix it. Also, the big wide landscape was completely lost, because I didn’t know how to photograph it. I was a bit frustrated with myself. But it is a wonderful place, full of peace, although the monastic settlement had been raided 14 times during its lifetime.

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    1. Thanks! I love these places. They are wonderful in their own right, but what really brings them alive for me is the stories of the people who are associated with them. That little gargoyle face was particularly cool, I really liked him, he was full of mischief. He was inside. The others were outside. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Diana. Ireland is so full of archaeology, I guess we cant nurture each and every one. But how do you choose between them? I don’t know. I struggles with my photography that day… I only had my phone, and the light was so strong, there was way too much contrast. I need to do some kind of photography course. I love taking pictures, but would lime to take better ones. 😊 Hope all is well with you.

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    1. Hi Kim. Slane is such a lovely little town, and the countryside is lush and so beautiful. I had never been up on the hill before… I had no idea the views were so breathtaking! Did you ever go to any of the concerts at Slane Castle? That alone would be enough to put me off living there, the traffic must be horrendous!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We went to a few, but back then we couldn’t really afford it. We had friends in bands or who were connected to bands so we usually went along to see them. It’s been a very long time!

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