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Slane in ancient times

The mound in the midwinter snow
Although difficult to make out, this mound is probably very ancient.


Many visitors and pilgrims who come to the Hill of Slane do so because of its Christian significance. Few visitors realise that this place was hugely significant long before St. Patrick ever set foot in Ireland. A mound on the western end of the peak, which lies hidden from the view of visitors by lots of trees, has a very ancient significance, linked to Newgrange by mythology.

The Motte, as it is now called, was in Norman times the site of a castle which was built by Richard Fleming in the 1170s. But it is probably the same mound under which was buried the Fir Bolg King, Sláine, who gives his name to the area. The ancient Dindshenchas says the following of Sláine:

Sláine, king of the Fir Bolg, and their judge, by him was its wood cleared from the Brugh. Afterwards, he died at Druim Fuar, which is called Dumha Sláine, and was buried there: and from him the hill is named Sláine. Hence it was said: Here died Sláine, lord of troops: over him the mighty mound is reared: so the name of Sláine was given to the hill, where he met his death in that chief abode.

A tenth-century poem, ascribed to Caoílte Mac Ronáin, says: 'Sláine of the Fir-Bolgs of fame t'was he by whom Tara was first raised.' And so, it seems, Sláine was indeed a very important character.

The mound on the Hill of Slane

A view of the mound on the Hill of Slane (with visitors!).


As evidence of ancient activity on Slane Hill, the motte does not stand alone. There are other earthwork features in the ground around the hilltop. Most notable of these is a ring-barrow, located very close to the motte. Ring-barrows such as this can range in date from the Late Neolithic (c3000-2500BC) to the Early Iron Age (c500BC). There are barrows like this on another ancient hill nearby called Sliabh Breagh, which is visible from Slane.

Ring barrow

The ring-barrow on the Hill of Slane, more evidence of ancient activity here. There is a cemetery of six barrows on the nearby Sliabh Breagh.


The Hill of Slane features strongly in a detailed and lengthy passage of the 'Táin Bó Cualgne' called 'The Array of the Host'. This fascinating chapter of the famous epic story places the Hill of Slane in a very mystical and cosmic setting, and the story itself has all the elements of a fantastic story, arcane, ancient and astronomical. Here are selected quotes from the story:

'' . . . MacRoth surveyed the plain and he saw something: a heavy, grey mist that filled the space between the heavens and earth. It seemed to him that the hills were islands in lakes that he saw rising up out of the sloping valleys of mist. It seemed to him they were wide-yawning caverns that he saw there leading into that mist. It seemed to him it was all-white, flaxy sheets of linen, or sifted snow a-falling that he was there through a rift in the mist. It seemed to him it was a flight of many, varied, wonderful, numerous birds, or the constant sparkling of shining stars on a bright, clear night of hoar-frost, or sparks of red-flaming fire. . .''

'' MacRoth went his way till he took his station in Slane of Meath, awaiting the men of Ulster. The Ulstermen were busied in marching to that hill from gloaming of early morn till sunset hour in the evening. In such manner the earth was never left naked under them during all that time, every division of them under its king, and every band under its leader, and every king and every leader and every lord with the number of his force and his muster, his gathering and his levy apart. Howbeit, by sunset hour in the evening all the men of Ulster had taken position on that height in Slane of Meath.''


One interesting feature of the ancient mound of Slane is the fact that it forms a very interesting alignment with some other ancient sites. Almost directly east of the Slane Motte, in nearby Drogheda, is another 'Norman' motte with significant prehistoric ties, known today as Millmount. This site is said to be the burial place of Amergin, the first bard of Ireland and chief of the Milesians who was famed for saying: ''What land is better than this island of the setting sun; who but I can tell the ages of the moon.''

Millmount at night

The ancient mound of Millmount, complete with its more recent martello tower, and all signs of modern urban development. This is the mythical burial place of Amergin, and the wife of the Gobán Saor.

A line drawn on an ordnance survey map from Millmount through the Slane Motte can be traced with reasonable accuracy as far west as Loughcrew, and specifically Carnbane west which contains a number of neolithic sites. If this supposed alignment seems imaginative, it gains credence when one considers that from Millmount, Winter Solstice sunset occurs exactly in the direction of the Hill of Tara and another ancient mound, the Mound of the Hostages. Alignments such as these are repeated throughout the ancient sites of Ireland. This alignment continues through the town of Kells, passing near the town of Longford, right through the Cruachan Ai complex in Roscommon and onwards as far as Croagh Patrick, the place from where Patrick was said to have banished the snakes from Ireland. See more about this amazing alignment, which we call the "Equinox Journey" of Saint Patrick.

Slane Motte

Another surprising revelation made by us at the Slane mound was the fact that the Rockabill islands, although lying some 38km away in the Irish Sea, are visible from the top of the mound. What's even more interesting is the fact that the islands are only visible through a gap formed by dipping hills. Rockabill is very significant to the Baltray solstice alignment, and the islands were also mentioned in ancient mythology.

All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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