To focus on the history of the Friary at the Hill of Slane without mentioning the myths and folklore ascribed to the hill itself would be senseless, as the Friary may not have been built here without those legends, and with that in mind I will try to give some background. According to the ‘Metrical Dindshenchas‘, an important collection of bardic verse and a great source of Irish mythology the hill was the burial place of the King of the Fir Bolg named Sláine mac Dela, at the time the area was known as Druim Fuar, renamed in his memory as Dumha Sláine, from which the modern name Slane derives.
The Hill of Slane is synonymous with St Patrick, this is mainly due to the highly mythicised writings of Muirchú moccu Machtheni a 7th century Irish monk and historian who wrote about the life of St Patrick. According to Muirchú the Hill of Slane was the location where St Patrick lit the first paschal fire in defiance of the laws of the pagan Kind Lóegaire at the time of the pagan festival Beltaine in 433AD. On the eve of the festival all fires across the country were extinguished to mark the end of winter, on the dawn of Beltaine the pagan King and his Druids would light the first fire thus ringing in the New Year, to light a fire before the King was unprecedented. The story goes that once the King met St Patrick, he was so astounded by his passion and belief he let St Patrick live. The majority of historians and archaeologists now believe that this event may have happened at Knowth rather than at Slane.
Another tale relating to St Patrick and the Hill of Slane, which may have more substance to it as it is widely believed, that he converted a pagan druid named Erc and appointed him the first Bishop of Slane. There are two standing stones situated in the graveyard that have always been considered the final resting place of St Erc who died in 514AD. St Erc is believed to have trained St Brendan the Navigator and ordained him a priest in 512AD0
St Erc’s monastery is mentioned in the Annals of Ireland as a significant centre of early Irish Law, it also mentions several Viking raids at Slane. In 948AD it is recorded that the ‘abbot of Slane was taken prisoner and died in Pagan hands’, in 950AD, the ‘bell-tower of Slane was burned, together with a particularly fine bell and the crosier of the patron saint, and the lector and many people were burned after they took refuge with the monastery’s valuables in the tower’.
The Hill of Slane remained a centre for religion and learning throughout its history and the friary church (on your left as you approach the Hill) and the College (on your right) were founded in 1512 by Sir Christopher Fleming, Baron of Slane, for the Franciscan order. At this time the church with its fine gothic belltower was built and the college was established to serve this church. The college housed four priests, four choristers and four lay-brothers. The Friary and college were in use until being abandoned in 1723
It should also be noted that the hill is also home to the remains of a 12th century motte built by Richard Fleming, many believe on the earlier mound of the Fir Bolg King Sláine. This was the seat of the Flemings until they moved to a castle on the left bank of the River Boyne, the current location of Slane Castle.
GPS: 53.71722, -6.54309