Hill of Slane - Irish Pictures (1888)

From Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil (1888) by Richard Lovett

Chapter III: The Valley of the Boyne … continued

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A pleasant drive of a couple of miles takes us past Knowth, the third of these great mounds, as yet, so far as is known, unexplored. A steep descent brings us to the little town of Slane. And here indeed we are on classic ground. A somewhat long ascent, but one easily made by car, brings us to the Hill of Slane.

Upon this hill, on Easter Eve, St. Patrick kindled his paschal fire, according to the habit of that day. This was contrary to the custom, that at the annual festival held at that time of the year at Tara, no fire should be lit in the neighbourhood until the great fire had been kindled at the palace of Tara. Thus began the series of events that led to St. Patrick's intercourse with King Laoghaire. And, however it may be with this story, and certain as it is that later miracle-makers have woven about the history of Patrick a web of absurd wonder-workings, it nevertheless remains a fact that this district is inseparably connected with the life and work of the great teacher, and that this connection rests upon a sure basis of fact. The faith and zeal of after ages crowned the hill with a monastery and a cathedral. The tower still stands, albeit in a ruinous condition; and it can be ascended by the adventurous. From its summit a superb view—unsurpassable in its kind in Europe—is obtained. Seen under such circumstances as those which favoured the writer, viz. brilliant May sunshine, and a clear atmosphere and an early summer stillness, the truth of the following description is evident:

'The ground whereon we stand is sacred, consecrated by the footprints of our patron saint, hallowed by the dust of kings. Look abroad over the wide undulating plains of Meath, or to the green hills of Louth: where in the broad landscapes of Britain, find we a scene more fruitful and varied, or one more full of interesting heart-stirring associations? Climb this tower and cast your eye along the river. Look from the tall, pillar-like form of the yellow steeple at Trim, which rises in the distance, to where yon bright line marks the meeting of the sea and sky below the Maiden Tower at Drogheda, and trace the clear blue waters of the Boyne winding through this lovely, highly cultivated landscape, so rich in all that can charm the eye and awaken the imagination; take into view the hills of Skreen and Tara; pass in review the woods of Hayes, Ardmulchan, Beauparc; look down into the green mounds and broad pastures of Slane; follow the Boyne below you, as it dances by each ford and rapid, to where the great pyramids of Western Europe, Knowth, New Grange and Dowth, rise on its left bank; see you not the groves of Townley Hall and Old Bridge, marking the battle-field of 1690 with the ill-fated hill of Donore, where the sceptre passed for ever from the line of Stuart, obtruding its long-remembered tale of civil strife upon us? Duleek stands in the distance. Beyond those hills that border Louth lie Monasterboice and Mellifont, the last resting-place of the faithless Bride of Brefney.

'Those steeples and turrets which rise in the lower distance were shattered by the balls of Cromwell; and that knoll which juts above them is the Mill Mount of Drogheda. What a picture have we here from this Richmond Hill of Irish scenery! What an extensive page of our country's history does it unfold to us! What recollections gush upon us as we stand on the abbey walls of Slane, and take in this noble prospect at a glance! The records and footprints of two thousand years are all before us; the solemn procession of the simple shepherd to the early pagan mound, the rude slinger standing on the earthen circle, the Druid fires paling before the bright sun of Christianity, the cadence of the round tower's bell, the matin and the vesper hymn swelling from the hermit's cell or early missionary church; the proud galleys and glancing swords of fierce Northern hordes; the smoking ruins of church and tower, the shout of rival clans in civil feuds; the lances and banners of Norman soldiers; the moat and fosse and drawbridge of the keep, still echoing back the strife of hostile ranks, the native for his soil, the stranger for his hire; the ford defended and the castle won; the pilgrim's cross, the stately abbey, and the baron's hall; in church, the stole ejected for the surplice, the town besieged, the city sacked; and then the rattle, and the roar, and smoke of recent battle—have one and all their epochs, ruins, sites, or history, legibly inscribed upon this picture.'[6]

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[6] The Boyne and the Blackwater, pp. 179, 180.