According to legend, in AD 433, arrived on the Hill of Slane with an intention to challenge the old beliefs and to assert his Christian faith. The main pagan festivals of the time were Imbolg marking the beginning of Spring, Bealtine marking the beginning of summer, the harvest festival of Lughnasa and Samhain marking the beginning of winter. Of these festivals, the rituals surrounding Bealtaine were of particular significance. All the fires across the country would be extinguished to mark the end of the winter, and a great fire that could be seen for miles around would then be lit at dawn on the Hill of Tara, symbolising the dawn of a new year.
The tale describes how Patrick sought to hijack the event when he lit a huge fire on the Hill of Slane on Easter Eve, known as the Pachal Fire. It burned throughout the night before the King’s warriors managed to capture Patrick. They hauled him back to Tara to answer to King Laoghaire. Legend has it that Patrick managed to perform many feats and miracles to prove to the King that the Christian God was far more powerful than the old Gods. In one of the most famous of the stories that surround Patrick, it is said that he used a three-leaved shamrock to explain the mysteries of Christianity to the King, giving rise to one of Ireland’s most renowned symbols and stories. While the King had no wish to convert to Christianity himself, he was convinced enough to allow Patrick to continue on his mission to spread Christianity across Ireland.
Though the stories of Patrick at Slane are likely to be the product of later hagiographic legend, the Hill of Slane was undoubtedly important to the early Irish Church. A monastery was founded on the hill by St Erc who died in AD 514. Slane is mentioned a number of times in the Annals of Ireland as an important centre of early Irish law, and it is noted for a number of Viking raids. Perhaps most significantly, the Annals of Ulster record in AD 948 that the ‘abbot of Slane was taken prisoner and died in pagan hands’. Two years later, the Annals recorded that: