The small idyllic village of Slane is a location steeped in history, folklore, poetry, and myth. Situated in the Boyne Valley It would be safe to say that Slane is at the very beating heart of Irelands ancient Celtic past.
The River Boyne winds and cuts through the village like an eternally watching serpent, a serpent that would have witnessed Slanes many tears, triumphs, and disasters. The historical legacy of Slane and its hinterlands have had momentous repercussions for the Irish nation.
A short distance away from the Village in 1690 the Battle of the Boyne took place, a battle that was to change the political landscape of Ireland for eternity. In this day and age we talk about Brexit and hard borders but it was in this small little village that the seed was planted for a story that would ripple down through the pages of history. The results of the Battle of the Boyne are alive and well and live amongst us.
It was the Celts who stamped their early mark on the strategic strong point and then came the turn in the 12th century of the ruthless Anglo Normans who ruled over the territory with a proverbial rod of iron.
Nowadays, one of the most recognisable feature of the village is the iconic Slane Castle which has entertained some of the goliaths of the Rock industry, bands such as U2, Mick Jagger, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Guns and Roses and many more have all rocked the natural outdoor rock coliseum.
The road trip
With all this in mind, I decided what better way to spend a lazy Sunday then to explore this area that is steeped in Irish history. My first port of call was to inspect the huge stone bridge that stretches from one side of the river to the other, a bridge that would be a familiar site for any traveller going to and from Dublin. Down at the water’s edge I discovered that there was walkway along some lush green grass. A great place for a run I’d say! As I gazed out at the flowing artery of the Boyne I couldn’t help but wondering what undiscovered treasures lie beneath the murky depths.
After a quick tour of the bridge I then drove through the Village itself which is decorated with some eye catching Georgian Houses. My next port of call was Slane Castle and as I drove up the road to the gates a menacing looking security guard came charging out in front of my car, looked inside, and then, thankfully, waved me on. I quickly realised that the beefed up security was in place because of the impending Metallica Concert that was to take place inside the grounds within a matter of weeks.
After parking my car I walked over to the Slane Whiskey Distillery which is located on the Castle grounds. Slane Whiskey is another brand of whisky which is attempting to capitalise on the insatiable lust Americans have for the drink. After doing a quick tour of the Distillery I popped into the local gift shop and looked around the small bar.
I then prepared myself for the main course, the castle itself. I walked the short distance over to the Castle and down the side entrance where there was a number of people drinking and relaxing outside the impressive Castle battlements. The place has real medieval feel. Its certainly not your bog standard open air drinking area.
Inside in the foray there are loads of picture’s on the wall that marked pivotal occasions in the Castles history, one picture that stood out was a headline from a newspaper in relation to Lord Henry MountCharles, the owner of the castle, which read “my lifes work has been destroyed.'” The story was referencing when the Castle was burned to the ground in the 90’s but thankfully it has since been rebuilt.
I walked into the packed restaurant for a wee nosey and inside the decor was mostly wooden with some suitably arranged stone walls. It looked like a splendid place to have a meal. I briefly popped into the small bar area where more people where relaxing and enjoying themselves.
I learned that the area around Slane was originally controlled by the Fleming family but the land which the Castle now resides on was confiscated during the Williamite confiscations of 1701. The modern Slane Castle was built by the Conyngham family in the 17th century and it is now owned by the charismatic and eccentric Lord Henry Mountcharles. An interesting fact which I learned on my trip was that a Cannon was fished out of the Boyne in 2003 which is believed to have originally belonged to the Castle estate.
The front of the building and the Castle itself has a real impressive feel and look. As I was exploring the side of the building there was a sign reading “public not allowed beyond this point” Naturally enough I ignored the sign walked on to see if there was anything worth seeing. There was a set of steps which led down to the back area of the building where you could see the rear of the structure and some outdoor section that looked like a private area.
When I walked inside the main hall of the Castle I was greeted by a number of huge portraits that hung on the wall. I asked the man working at reception when the next tour was on and then I started taking some pictures with my iPhone when the receptionist informed me that you are prohibited from taking photographs inside the Castle. I apologised and informed him that I was breaking laws all over the place.
In the field beside the Castle workmen were just setting up the stage and for the Metallica Concert. I tried to figure what areas I would have drunkenly rampaged around when I was attending many a concert in the area but all I was left with was some hazy drink filled recollections.
After leaving the Castle I intended to drive home but then I saw a sign for the Hill of Slane heritage site so I took a short detour up to the Hill where I was met with a sign explaining the history of the site. I was shocked to discover that this was the location where Saint Patrick had lit a fire in defiance of the King Laoghire but instead of Laoghire butchering Patrick as would have been custom, he decided to spare him because he was impressed with Patricks bravado and courage in lighting a fire in defiance of his will.
At the top of the hill lay the ruins of a Francisan Abbey that was built around the 15th century. The ruins are remarkably well preserved with spiral staircases that lead up to the upper parts of the structure. Much of the old structure still remains intact and are almost like a portal into another era Its not surprising that this area was chosen as a place to live in with with panoramic views that stretch for miles into the countryside.
Across from the Abbey there was graveyard where a statue of Saint Patrick marked the spot where the revered Irish Saint allegedly lit his fire that sparked off a revolution on the island of Ireland. The graveyard was very peaceful, and looking at the headstones I discovered that some of the plots are still in use with some relatively recent burials. Behind the ruins of the monastery, I noticed a large mound that was covered in trees- this mound is apparently the burial place of some ancient Irish King.
As I gazed out at the mountains in the distance it struck me that whilst many things would have changed over time at the Hill of Slane, dreams and hopes dashed,buildings falling into ruin, beating hearts that beat no more, that them there Mountains that I was looking at would have been the exact same mountains that Saint Patrick would have gazed out at centuries ago. In many ways the mountains are a testament to the enduring power of nature and the contrasting frailty of humanity’s transient beat.
Overall, I have to say I spent an enjoyable few hours in the village and will definitely return for a more detailed look at some of the sites on offer. In particular, I intend to take a look at the Francis Ledwidge museum. I also intend to take a look at the ominous sounding Gallows Hill and will also take a tour of the nearby 5,000 year old Loughcrew passage tombs.