Today’s post takes me back to the unforgettable Hill of Slane, Co. Meath, Ireland. I visited last in Nov. 2015. This is a site on the Boyne tourist trail with a powerful narrative of Christian conversion wrapped around it. Given the site’s importance in the mythologised Life of St Patrick at Easter time, it seems appropriate to post this now.
The Hill of Slane enjoys fabulous views over the Meath countryside. Tara is visible in the far distance to the south. Apparently, it was here that Patrick lit the Paschal fire in direct challenge to the druidic ceremonies taking place at Tara and to the high king Loegaire whom had forbade any other fires to be lit within view of the Beltaine festivities there.
The stones of Slane reveal many dimensions to the memory of this story meshed with this hilltop site.
I haven’t explored in detail the archaeological evidence, but it has been speculated that there was a pagan temple here prior to its rededication as a Christian monastic site in the 5th century. The ruins date to the late medieval friary and college and I didn’t see much demonstrably early Christian on the site. However, the collection of stones in the churchyard look more like an early Christian tomb-shrine to me than anything pre-Christian.
The ruins of church and college of Slane Friary might be taken to illustrate a dislocation of past and present, but through three ways, these ruins speak of continuity rather than loss and dislocation. They reveal this is a long-term site of Christian worship and commemoration:, enhanced by three association
The ruins operate as a museum for spolia. Within the college and the church are many architectural fragments and old dislocated gravestones placed on display.
There is a statue celebrating the figure connected to Slane’s origins. It could be any beardy saint, but it happens to be Erc (Erk): founding ‘ancestor’ of the place and embodiment of Christian conversion given a personal and primordial dimension. He is now handless thanks to erosion. Erc was apparently the only druid to have responded to Patrick’s challenge to Leogaire and he became first bishop Slane. An Erc-some memory of Christianity’s origins in Ireland linked to the specific origin myth of this particular monastic community.
Into this context, the continued use of the site as a place of burial and commemoration into recent times is important. While individual graves tell their own personal and family narratives, together they speak of the enduring associations of the Hill with community and religious identity.
There is also a memorial plague commemorating the restoration of the ruins in 1989: the commemoration of commemoration.