The Hill of Slane

Medieval Church, St Erc's Tomb, The College, Holy Well, Motte

The Hill of Slane is predominantly steeped in Christian history and myth. St Patrick is traditionally believed to have lit the first paschal fire on the hill in defiance of the pagan High King Lóegaire. The king, who resided at Tara, forbid any other fires being lit within view of Tara during the Beltaine Festival (Spring Equinox). In Muirchú Moccu Mactheni's highly mythicized 7th century Life of Patrick, Lóegaire is described as "a great king, fierce and pagan, emperor of the barbarians". After a number of attempts by Lóegaire and others to kill Patrick, Lóegaire is warned by the saint that he must accept the faith or die. Having taken the counsel of his people, he submits and is baptised. St Erc was believed to be a pagan druid converted by Patrick and appointed first Bishop of Slane. Erc is believed to have trained St Brendan the Navigator at his church in Tralee, and ordained him priest in 512 AD. St Brendan is one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland. The present ruins include the medieval church with a well preserved early gothic tower, seen in the image below, situated inside the walled enclosure on the left, and the famous college built on the site of the early monastery established by St Erc, seen on the right.

The college was built by the Flemings, Barons of Slane for six centuries from the 11th century onwards. Known as the college, these ruins consist of a former franciscan monastery and an early 16th century tower house. The monastery was dissolved in around 1540 by Henry VIII. I have misplaced my images of the monastery/college buildings, but below shown below are some carvings on the buildings taken on another trip.

There are lots of delightful carvings to be found as you wander around the ruins. These include the corbel stone, pictured above, the amazing head below left and the griffin carving below right. There is also an armorial plaque above the entrance to the college.

St Erc's Tomb

Inside the enclosure are two gable-shaped stones believed to be the remains of St Ercs Tomb, often called The Bishop’s Tomb. This reliquary has a former tradition associated with it: at every funeral the coffin was carried around the tomb three times and then set down for a time before burial. Also present inside the enclosure is a dried up holy well.

Artificial Mound/Motte

But even before the establishment of the ancient monastery, the hill had a mythological history. The warrior and Fir Bolg King Slaine met his death upon this hill and is believed to have been buried here. A mound, now known as "The Motte" and currently blocked from view by trees and blockaded from approach by fencing, is most likely over his grave. This mound may have been converted to a motte by the Norman Richard Fleming in the 1170s. The Bailey was abandoned when the Flemings moved to Slane Castle. The Flemings reconstructed the monastic site for the Franciscans in the 16th century. East of the mound is a ring-barrow which could also be the burial place of Slaine.

Dried up holy well

Situated: From Dublin head north on the N2 to Slane. Drive straight through Slane and about 600 metres after the crossroads take the first left sign-posted Hill of Slane. Drive up here to the car-park. Walk straight across the field. The mound is situated in the trees behind the monastic site.

Discovery Map 43: N 9616 7515. Last visit Mar 2010.

Longitude: 6° 32' 35" W. St Patrick's Church

Latitude: 53° 43' 2" N.

Google Map.

Photos: Jim Dempsey and Deb Snelson.

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