The Hill of Slane is not only a windswept spiritual experience, but a chance to see panoramic views of the Boyne Valley countryside. If I lived in Slane, I would walk up there every day. It’s a bit of a steep climb, but a real heart-healthy, invigorating, make you feel like you’re really in Ireland walk. And you’re very rewarded by the scenery, it gives a new meaning to the word breathtaking, unless you’re super fit. If you’d rather conserve your energy or you’re more partial to meandering walks, then you can drive right up the hill and park. All ages are go up the hill one way or another and it is always open to the public. Once you’re up there, it isn’t too difficult to navigate. I’d go with a sturdy pair of walking shoes, and one’s that can get wet, as the grass is a bit long and can be wet, even if rain isn’t looming. You could probably enjoy the views and ruins in an hour, but for those who want to really explore and see Boyne Valley from different vantage points, a first visit of two hours might be more sufficient. On a nice day it would make a good stop for a picnic lunch.
If you are standing in the parking lot and you look away from the ruins, you can see a large town and just make out the Irish Sea. That’s the town of Drogheda. Look around for Newgrange and Knowth burial tomb mounds from this vantage point. This is the eastern viewpoint. If you go in front of the ruins and are facing south, you might just see the Sugarloaf Mountains, Wicklow, which are below Dublin. They are a popular destination if you head out on a tour or explore in that direction.
Before the Hill of Slane became an important Christian site, it was an important pagan site, and the history of its use can be traced back, albeit through mythological stories, to the Neolithic period some 5,000 years ago.
This dramatically changed in 433AD when St. Patrick (Patron Saint of Ireland) lit a paschal (Easter) flame on the top of the Hill of Slane to declare Christianity and renounce Ireland’s pagan beliefs. However, the High King of Ireland Laoire, or Laoghaire, who had lit a festival (spring equinox) fire on the Hill of Tara, had forbid any other fires be lit. St. Patrick was in direct defiance with the most powerful men of Ireland, but Laoire was so impressed by St. Patrick’s boldness that he allowed the flame to burn. This is considered the beginning of Christianity in Ireland. You might find that there is debate over whether or not the Hill of Slane was indeed the correct hill. Some believe the distance between Tara and Slane was too great for a flame to be seen. It has long been believed that St. Patrick chose this site because of the pagan stones, which can still be seen in the burial ground. St. Patrick appointed a bishop of Slane named Erc soon after.
The ruins of a friary, college and early gothic tower still dominate the top of the hill. On the western side, opposite the parking lot, there is an inaccessible, and covered by trees Neolithic burial mound, or possibly the remains of a 12th Century motte and bailey, built in Norman times by the Flemings, who initially owned Slane Castle on the River Boyne, below the hill. After William of Orange defeated James II in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne, the lands and castle of the Flemings were handed over to the Conynghams, a Protestant family from Ulster, by way of Scotland. These were the Williamite Confiscations from the Williamite war.