What better way to experience a bit of Ireland from Dublin than driving through endlessly rolling pastures, dotted with dairy cows and sheep, with little villages and stone farms popping up periodically, and then suddenly, appearing across the way the first glimpse of an idyllic Irish village, set on a hillside overlooking the glistening Boyne River. It is a glorious site. Crossing over an old stone bridge, an old mill sits in the flats to the right and the large stone castle gate for Slane Castle suddenly comes into view. A little ways up the hill four stately Georgian homes sit on the corners of the main street, flanked by equally stunning homes and shops. At this point a gasp of sheer delight would not be unexpected, but the beauty of Slane is best seen on foot, as there are a few lovely walks that shouldn’t be missed.
There are handy walking tour maps that will take you around town and up to the Hill of Slane. It takes about an hour to two hours, depending on how long you stay at each stop and your speed. It makes for a nice evening after checking into a local hotel. The only downside to Slane is the amount of traffic coming through on the main drag. The N2 and N51 cross and any number of heavy trucks, buses and commuters are heading through. There are a few places where walking can be a little treacherous, especially near the castle gate, but it is not something to be too concerned about, a little planning and preparation are all that’s needed.
Slane Village and Slane Castle
Though the area of Slane has roughly 5,000 years of history, the “modern” village was planned in the 18th Century. The Conyngham family* built the village just above their family seat, Castle Slane. The castle itself is open in the summer months, but has a tradition of hosting music concerts of the large-scale variety, as the estate has a natural amphitheater. It is a castle well-worth seeing, though only the gate can be seen from the village, as the castle sits far back from the road, and right next to the River Boyne. Slane Castle is owned by the 8th Marquess Conyngham, whose family gained the castle and surrounded area after the Williamate War saw Catholic James II dethroned and Protestant William of Orange king. The Catholic Fleming family had originally owned the castle, but left for America after their home and lands were forfeited to the crown. Another element worth mentioning is that the grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown.
* Conyngham: originally from Scotland, by way of Ulster and pronounce their name as Cunninghum, which is close enough to the Scottish Clan Cunningham, thus an adaptation of their name to the more Irish Coyne look, but without the adoption of the sound, this is just my opinion though.
In Slane there are many religious buildings and symbols. A walk around town and you might discover crosses or a round tower, used by monks during an invasion, like the one below.
Hill of Slane
Just above the village and about a ten-minute walk uphill, or a short drive, if you prefer, lies the ruins of Slane Abbey. Believed to be the 433AD site of St. Patrick’s defiant proclamation of Christianity against the High Kings of Ireland. It has great views of the surrounding valley. You can read more about it here.
Slane: the Surrounding Area
Within a 20-minute drive of Slane there are a number of important historical sites. If you are at all interested in the history of Ireland than it is said that the history of all of Ireland can be learned in the Boyne valley.
Battle of the Boyne Battlefield:
Within short driving distance is the location of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, the turning point of William’s (William & Mary) quest for the English throne and deposition of James II, and the solidification of Protestantism in England. It was also a major turning point in Irish history.
Brú na Bóinne:
Also in the area is the UNESCO Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site, which contains unusual burial grounds that date back to the Neolithic Era.
Hill of Tara:
The place where the High Kings of Ireland were made king. It’s steeped in wonderful mthylogical tales.
Drogheda Museum Millmount:
A 12th Century barracks constructed by Hugh de Lacey, who also built Trim Castle and fought to control the lands granted to him by Henry II of England after the successful Norman Invasion of Ireland in 1172.
A religious site with two of the most intricate and best preserved Celtic crosses in Ireland. There’s also a partial round tower and two churches.
Francis Ledwidge Museum:
The WWI poet Francis Ledwidge’s boyhood home. If you are unfamiliar with his works, the museum is a great place to see a typical 19th Century workers cottage and learn about its occupants.