Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Hill of Slane, County Meath
According to Irish mythology, this was the burial place of Sláine mac Dela. He was the King of the legendary Fir Bolg, and was buried here at Dumha Sláine, from where we get the modern name, Slane.
The Hill of Slane is also part of the legends that grew around St. Patrick. According to legend, Patrick was the son of a wealthy Romano-British nobleman, he was captured by a band of Irish marauders who were raiding Wales for slaves. They brought him back to Ireland and reportedly sold the young Patrick to a druid. This druid made Patrick keep watch over his sheep, and kept him for six years before Patrick managed to escape and return home to his family. At home Patrick decided he wished to become a Christian, and entered the church, eventually reaching the rank of bishop. He returned to Ireland seeking to convert the country from Paganism to Christianity.
As part of this mission, the legend states that Patrick chose to attack and subvert one of the most important Pagan traditions. The main pagan festivals of the time were Imbolg marking the beginning of Spring, Bealtine marking the beginning of summer, Lughnasa was a harvest festival usually set in late August and Samhain marking the beginning of winter.
Of these festivals one of the most important was the rituals surrounding Bealtine. All the fires across the country would be extinguished to mark the end of the winter, and a great fire that could be seen for miles around would then be lit at dawn on the Hill of Tara, this symbolized the dawn of a new year. Patrick sought to hijack this pagan practice. He lit a huge fire here on the Hill of Slane. This burned throughout the night before the Kings warriors managed to capture Patrick and haul him back to Tara to answer to the King. Legend has it that Patrick then managed to perform many feats and miracles to prove to the King that the Christian God was far more powerful than the old Gods, and in the famous story he used a three leaved Shamrock to explain the mysteries of Christianity to the King. While the King had no wish to convert to Christianity himself, he was convinced enough to allow Patrick to continue on his mission to spread Christianity across Ireland.
Though nothing remains above ground of the early 6th century monastery, today visitors to the Hill of Slane can find a superbly preserved 16th Century Franciscan Church and College.
The college was established to serve the church. It housed four priests, four choristers and four lay-brothers. It was constructed around an open quadrangle, with the priests quarters on the northern side. You can still explore some of the great original features like the staircases (please do take extreme care in wet-weather), and see the fireplaces, window mouldings and even a double garderobe (a good old classy medieval toilet).
As you explore the ruins keep an eye open for some of the superb stone sculpture and carvings you can discover on the Hill of Slane. Like this dragon or wyvern (left). If you go inside the large vaulted room on your right as you enter the college, you can also see a large collection of decorated stone fragments.
The Hill of Slane is a great place to visit. The site is free to enter and has a large carpark. However please make sure that you take care (especially with small children) inside the ruins of the college, as the staircases may become dangerous in wet weather. There are a number of other great sites to see nearby such as the Hill of Tara. If you'd like to hear about the wonderful Hill of Tara and discover why it is one of Ireland's most important historical sites try our audioguide available for just €1.99 from www.abartaaudioguides.com – full of original music and sound effects it's a wonderfully immersive and fun experience. Follow the link for a free preview.
The Hill of Slane is well signposted from Slane, just head north up the hill on the N2 through Slane and take a left turn at Chapel Street/N2.
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