The Hill of Slane Archaeological Project

Co. Meath tourism, Visiting Ireland, Ireland with children

Knowth (L) and Newgrange (R) seen from the Friary on top of the Hill of Slane. Could an overgrown mound behind the church be the grave of the man who legend says cleared the site for these famous tombs? (Click through for a better resolution view.)

You can wander around the church and friary/college on top of the Hill of Slane all morning without noticing the mound known as “the motte” because it’s in a wooded area behind the church. I know I (who grew up in Co. Meath) didn’t even know it was there until I read about it somewhere or other. There now seems to be a very interesting project to investigate this mound under way. Archaeologists have been scanning the motte and its surroundings (an earth resistance survey) to discover what it’s made of (a cairn of rocks brought from elsewhere, a built structure, or a mound of local clay?) and detect any subsoil evidence of the remains of buildings on top. The resultant 3D mapping gives a great view of the physical features of the hill and suggests future locations to explore.

Going by the annals, it seems likely that there was an ancient grave of some importance on the hill: reputed to be the Fir Bolg king Sláine, from whom the hill gets its name. (Yes, that’s the same Sláine on whose legends the classic 2000AD comic was inspired. I daresay a generation of British and Irish megalithomaniacs had their imaginations kick-started by that story.)  The type of grave this may have been (cairn, passage tomb, dolmen, etc.) we don’t know. Likewise, whether  that grave site was later exploited to build a Norman motte and bailey-type fortified position or whether the church was originally built on the tomb site is unknown. It seems the use of the motte as a fortified position dates from around 1170AD, but the mound now known as the motte could be much older.  Sláine was reputed to have cleared the site for Newgrange, which would place him circa 3200BC.  However, the preliminary earth resistance survey results from this project are intriguing, suggesting that the mound is man-made and revealing a second earthwork (possibly a ring barrow dating from 2500BC–although all dates seem approximate at this stage in the project) partially overbuilt by a rath surrounding the motte. Given the history of adaptive re-use of sites with strategic or symbolic significance by successive cultures in Ireland, there certainly seems to be a strong case for further investigation.

Fieldwork has been ongoing since 2010, so this is a project to bookmark and watch for future discoveries.


2010 Research « The Hill of Slane Archaeological Project.

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  1. Lois Farley Shuford’s avatar

    Glad to have found your blog! There’s an odd little hill called “the motte” near Nobber in Co. Meath. I’ve gotten lost on the roads around there a few times. I visit Moynalty often – my roots are there. It’s my second home 🙂

    1. Rich’s avatar

      Hi Lois,

      Small world, I grew up not so far away from Moynalty. We used to attend the annual Steam Threshing Festival in the autumn. The motte in Nobber seems to have been a Norman motte and bailey type fortification from c.1100AD and was involved in multiple battles and skirmishes over five centuries. Thanks for reminding me about it. I must do some research and see if it was built from scratch or may be built upon and older mound. I used to drive past it all the time going to visit my grandfather. There’s another motte on the edge of Navan, Co. Meath, which could probably be seen from the top of the Slane motte. I must climb up there and check the view next time I’m home.

      I loved your blog post about looking up the 1821 census and the family history you discovered. The National Archives are now on my agenda for my next trip home. Slàinte.

      1. Lois Farley Shuford’s avatar

        Thanks, Rich. Sorry, I missed your reply to my comment, just found it today.

        Yep, the archives are excellent. Can’t believe how much is accessible – I read through some letters from the famine relief committees in both Moynalty and Virginia. The original letters are there and you just sit at a desk and read. This would never happen in the US. It’d be white gloves and a person standing over you. I wish I could get back to the NAI soon, but it may be another year.

        If you’re doing research for about ancient times, you might be interested in a book I just found called “The Atlas of the the Rural Irish Landscape”. It’s an incredible resource going way, way back, and up to now (post-tiger time) with text, charts, photos – there’s good sections on ancient sites. Just thought I’d mention it. It’s expensive, but worth every bit.

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