Situated at the summit of the Hill of Slane. St. Patrick lit the Easter fire on the Hill of Slane in defiance of the High King, and thus announced the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. The hill is now crowded with ecclesiastical structures. A church was probably founded by St. Erc, who died in AD 514, and the deaths of abbots are recorded in the 8th and 9th centuries. It was attacked by Vikings in 833 and in the notorious and extensive Viking raids of 950 its round tower was destroyed. The monastery went into decline after this but it was probably the burial place of the kings of north Brega. It was important enough to be raided again in 1156, 1161 and 1170, by which time it had probably ceased to function (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 44).
The location of this monastery is uncertain, but Manning (2008) posits that sandstone stonework on the wider walls (L c. 11m) at the E end of the nave of this structure indicate the presence of antae, a projecting feature common on masonry churches from the early 9th century to the 11th century. This church has been mistaken for the Franciscan church at Slane (Westropp 1901), but it definitely became the medieval parish church of St. Patrick, and remained in use until the 18th century when the present Church of Ireland church in the village was constructed in 1712 (Lewis 1837, 2, 562). According to the Dopping and Royal Visitations the church and chancel were in ruins since 1641 and it was not enclosed (Ellison 1973, 4). The church is within a sub-oval graveyard (dims c. 80m E-W; c. 34-43m N-S) defined by masonry walls and survives almost complete, except the N wall of the chancel.
The long rectangular nave (int. dims c. 22m E-W; c. 5.4m N-S) was probably built in the 13th century. The extensively re-built chancel (int. dims c. 9m E-W; c. 6m N-S) at the E is not separated from the nave and unusually has no windows but includes a re-used sandstone window head. A rectangular 15th century bell tower (ext. dims c. 5m N-S; c. 4m E-W) was added at the W end, which opens into the nave and is vaulted over the third floor. It has a fine Gothic decorated window above the flat-arched doorway in its W wall. A pointed and chamfered doorway from the nave leads to a mural stairs in the S wall of the tower that becomes a newel stairs at the SW angle. From the stairs lintelled doorways access each upper stage, although the second and third floors are featureless. The fourth floor, which is the belfry stage, has a twin-light pointed openings on each wall. Externally, these are recessed and a corbel-table supports the parapet with corner turrets. There is an anthropomorphic corbel at the centre of the S face. (Bradley and King 1985, 144-6)
Around the time that the belfry was built the S aisle (int. dims c. 13m E-W; c. 3.5m N-S) was rebuilt and converted into a chantry chapel. The blocked clerestorey window in the nave wall above the roof-line of the aisle indicates that it replaces an earlier aisle. This chapel, separated from the nave by a four-bay arched arcade, contains a piscina and aumbry. Its S wall has a pointed doorway with a small ogee-headed window over, the remains of two new twin-light, round-headed windows and a re-used sandstone window (Seaver & Brady 2011). A fragment of a high cross (dims 0.26m x 0.13m; L 0.27m) that was in the outer face of the W wall has now been moved to the OPW depot in Trim for safe-keeping (Harbison 1998). It has a moulding at each angle and the larger panels have small mouldings. One larger face has an intricate design of circular interlace but the other large face is too damaged to identify the design. The narrower faces have looser simple interlace with two strands. The interlace is comparable with examples from St Patrick and Columba’s cross in Kells and the South cross in Clonmacnoise and a date in the second half of the ninth century is suggested.
In the graveyard there is a slab-shrine S of the church tower, which consists of two gable-shaped stones (W stone: dims 0.95m N-S; 0.25m E-W; H 1.4m; E stone 1.12m N-S; 0.23m E-W; H 1.57m) placed 1.2m apart, but the side-stones are missing. There is a third pointed stone (dims 0.4m N-S; 0.16m E-W; H 0.44m) 0.9m to the E that may be part of it. Just E of the shrine is the graveslab of W. Kenwan, which is coffin-shaped (Wth 0.52-0.68) and has an incised cross with fleur de lis terminals and a three-step Calvary at the foot. The name is carved at the foot and a chalice beneath the arms may indicate that he was a priest (Westropp 1901, 418-9; FitzGerald 1915), but it was not identified in 2014. A female stone head (Wth 0.2m; H 0.36m; D 0.26m) is set into the N pier of the entrance to the graveyard, and two architectural fragments are set in the graveyard wall nearby (Bradley and King 1985, 146). The limestone octagonal font (ext. dim. 0.74m; H 0.35m) with a circular straight-sided basin (diam. 0.53m; D 0.2m) and chamfered under-panels was left in the church after its abandonment but was later moved to the Roman Catholic church in the village (ME019-025----) where it is displayed (Roe 1968, 127). The ecclesiastical site known as the ‘College' (ME019-060008-) is c. 20m to the N and the motte (ME019-060001-) is c. 150m to the W.
The above description is derived from the published 'Archaeological Inventory of County Meath' (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1987). In certain instances the entries have been revised and updated in the light of recent research.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of upload/revision:16 June 2014
Amended: 3 July, 2014; July 2 2020Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.