The Hill of Slane
Slane, An Introduction

Slane is such an impressive, important and influential site that it defies a simple description. Steeped in myth and history, the hill towers 158 metres (521ft) above the surrounding landscape and has breathtaking views of the countryside.

A view of the ruins on the Hill of Slane with the sun

From this beautiful hill, a vast prospect of Ireland is afforded on a clear day. Eastwards can easily be seen the mounds of Newgrange and Knowth, with the town of Drogheda and the Irish Sea beyond, while the view northwards extends as far as Slieve Gullion (well into Northern Ireland), southwards as far as the Sugarloaf Mountain in Wicklow, and westwards to the midlands of Ireland.

Saint PatrickThe importance of the Hill of Slane can be traced back into prehistory, probably as far as the Neolithic. In ancient Dindshenchas mythology, the Fir Bolg king Sláine was said to have been buried here. In Christian history the hill became established as the place where St. Patrick lit the first paschal fire in direct defiance of the pagan kings at nearby Tara. However, archaeologists have suggested the Paschal Fire may have been lit at Brú na Bóinne, and possibly Knowth, instead of Slane.

The hill remained an eminence of Christian significance long after St. Patrick appointed Erc as the first Bishop there - a monastery survived on the Hill of Slane even after successive raids by the Vikings. It is still a mecca for pilgrims to this day.

There are other, less known facts, which make Slane a mystical and fascinating place. The 'motte' which stands on the western side of the hill, shielded from view by a wood of trees, is said to be of Norman origin, but is probably the burial mound of Sláine, the Fir Bolg King, who according to legend was the one who cleared the wood from the Brugh when the mounds of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth were built. The mound also has interesting alignments with other ancient sites, and in mythology may have an astronomical significance.

Slane was also supposed to have been the location of a mythical healing well, which was used by the Tuatha Dé Danann to heal their wounds during battle.

Another intriguing story about Slane concerns a certain Dagobert II, heir to the throne of a Merovingian kingdom called Austrasie (in France), who was exiled to Ireland after his father's death in 656. Dagobert is said to have grown into a man 'at the Monastery of Slane', and attended the court of the High King of Tara. While in Ireland, he married a Celtic princess. He eventually returned to Austrasie and claimed the kingship in 674, some 18 years after his original exile to Slane.

Croagh Patrick mountain County Mayo
Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. Click image for larger view.

Slane sits on an extraordinary 135-mile equinox alignment stretching from Millmount in the east as far as Croagh Patrick in the west, passing through the town of Kells and the impressive monument complex at Cruachan Ai. We call this Saint Patrick's "Equinox Journey". The near-equinox alignment involves watching the sunset around March 23rd from Millmount, overlooking the Boyne in Drogheda. This sunset falls behind the Hill of Slane. n observer looking at this equinoctial sunset is unwittingly looking also in the direction of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. Thus, two sites closely associated with Saint Patrick are in a near-equinox alignment. By coincidence, Mythical Ireland webmaster Anthony Murphy's birthday is March 23rd!

Ancient Slane | Christian Slane | Patrick's equinox journey