Slane is located in an area steeped in history; from the Neolithic structures of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, through the ancient Christian settlements on the Hill of Slane and the Hill of Tara, and on to the Battle of the Boyne site nearby.
In order to make these pages more manageable, we have broken this history section into three sections:
• a general history of the parish (below)
• the Church of St Patrick, Slane, and
• the Church of the Assumption, Monknewtown.
Christianity down the years in Slane
It was on the Hill of Slane, according to ancient manuscripts, that Saint Patrick lit the Pascal Fire on Easter Eve 433. There are many and varied accounts of this well known event. Whether by accident or design, Patrick chose a convenient site to throw down a challenge to King Laoghaire at Tara as Slane Hill holds a commanding elevated view and is easily seen from afar. The exciting train of events that ensued are reverberated around the world on March 17th each year.
Tradition ascribes the foundation of the original monastery on the Hill of Slane to Saint Erc, the disciple of Saint Patrick. Erc, Son of Dago, was the only member of King Laoghaire’s retinue to break ranks and pay homage to Patrick. Patrick baptised Erc and later consecrated him bishop. Saint Erc’s foundation thrived in Slane and had an honourable history for at least six hundred years. Before Saint Patrick died in 461, he sent Bishop Erc southwards to Munster to proclaim the good news there. Many years later Erc returned to Slane and lived out his declining years in prayer and solitude in a quiet hermitage beside the Boyne. He died in 514 aged 93 years. What is now referred to as Saint Erc’s Hermitage dates from the 15th Century although the two sites may be in the same vicinity.
Various annals refer to the early monastery on Slane Hill.
843 The Abbot Colman died as abbot of Slane and other churches in France and Ireland.
854 Sodhomma, Bishop of Slane received martyrdom from the Norsemen.
948 The belfry of Slane was burned by the Danes, with all its relics including the crosier of the Patron Saint. The first reference to round towers in the annals refers to the round tower at Slane in 950. About this time also, the Book of Slane disappeared.
1002 Slane was plundered by the Danes.
1172 Slane was plundered and burned by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster.
1175 Finally, the monastery was completely destroyed by the Normans.
Rev. Mervyn Archdall, Rector of Slane, tells an interesting legend which may illustrate the importance of Slane Monastery as a place of sanctity and scholarship during the quieter centuries before the arrival of Vikings and Normans. About the year 653 the King of Austrasia (a kingdom in eastern Gaul) died aged 21 years leaving his two year old son Dagobert as his heir. His chief ministers assumed control over the affairs of state and young Dagobert was sent to Slane Monastery to be cared for and educated. After twenty years Prince Dagobert returned home and claimed his office as king.
All traces of the earlier buildings on Slane hill have completely disappeared. What we now see dates to c.1512. Richard de Fleming who was made Baron of Slane by Hugh de Lacy attempted to rebuild the monastery but with little success owing to Middle Ages wars. In 1512 it was reopened by Christopher Fleming, Knight and Lord of Slane when Friars of the Third Order of Saint Francis were installed there. The Reformation put an untimely end to their stay as the Prior of Slane surrendered to King Henry the Eight’s commissioners a “church, belfry, dormitory, garden and two closes on one acre.”
The property was granted to John de Fleming at an annual rent of one penny, Irish money. In 1631 the Flemings made another attempt at restoring the monks when Capuchins were settled on the hill. They survived various persecutions until 1695 when, after the Jacobite defeat at the Boyne, they were forced to disperse. The church on the Hill of Slane was finally abandoned as a place of worship about the year 1723.