Slane Castle

As Metallica and thousands of dedicated fans descend on the Boyne Valley today, what is the history of Slane Castle and what are the supernatural links between this historic location on the River Boyne and a world famous Heavy Metal band? 

Wherever I May Roam -The Burton and Conyngham Families

A coincidence perhaps, but the founder of Slane Castle was the son of an Anglo-Irish politician, Francis Burton, who’s family hailed from Shropshire in England. Cliff Burton’s father Ray is also of British heritage.

William Burton Conyngham, was the son of Francis and his mother Mary Conyngham was also from a prolific Anglo-Irish political family with strongholds in both County Meath and County Donegal.

In the late 18th century, William legally changed his name to include his mother’s maiden name in order to inherit the vast estate of his uncle Henry.


Disposable Heroes – Battle of  The Boyne

The Battle of The Boyne took place in 1690 close by to what was the  Fleming Castle. It was between King James VII of England (James II of Scotland) and William of Orange who had usurped James’ position as King. This battle for control of Britain and Ireland took place in one of Ireland’s most deep rooted historical locations, an insult to the legacy of the Irish High Kings so it was little wonder that Simon Fleming continued to fight for Irish power.

The Four Horsemen – Beyond The Pale

The land at Slane Demesne was the holding of the Barons of Slane and the Fleming family dating back to medieval times and they were not going to let it go lightly! The Fleming and De Lacy families had originally invaded Ireland from Normandy in the 11th century and taken the Hill of Slane by force. Generations later, Baron Slane had joined the Irish Catholic rebellion with the other Four Lords of ‘The Pale’, a strip of land including Slane under direct English rule.

The rest of Ireland outside of The Pale boundaries became known as a place of wild, unacceptable behaviour to the Crown, hence the phrase ‘Beyond the Pale.’ It was following this rebellion and the death of the Baron that lands were seized and eventually passed to the Conyngham family.

Eye of the Beholder – Slane Castle

The picturesque facade of Slane Castle and it’s famous natural amphitheatre that plays hosts to world class musicians including Metallica, came into being under the watchful eye of William Burton Conyngham and his nephew in conjunction with esteemed Irish architect, Francis Johnston, the man responsible for the gothic glory of haunted Charleville Castle in County Offaly.

Fight Fire with Fire – U2 and an Inferno

In 1984, a relatively unknown Irish band called U2 took up residence and recorded their iconic album, The Unforgettable Fire.’ In another strange coincidence, just a few years later, a third of Slane Castle was destroyed by you guessed it- an unforgettable fire. Years of restoration saw it return to its former glory.



Holier Than Thou – Saint Patrick and The Hill of Slane

Long before Burton Conyngham and the Fleming’s, long before castles and The Pale, the Hill of Slane was a huge part of the Pagan culture and Druidic rituals of the time. It faced directly onto the nearby Hill of Tara, the one true coronation place of the High Kings of Ireland.

When Saint Patrick arrived in Ireland, he went to the Hill of Slane at Easter and lit the Paschal Fire. At this time of year, it was the pagan way to distinguish all fires until a new one was lit on the Hill of Tara. When the Druid priests saw the lit shining across the Boyne Valley they fearfully warned King Laoghaire if the flame was not extinguished it would burn eternally at a cost of their Druid ways.

Saint Patrick was met not by a crazed heathen, but a learned king who listened to the Christian man and granted him leave to continue his work in Ireland. A Christian Abbey was founded on the Hill of Slane, in direct defiance of the existing pagan shrine. The standing stones of this Neolithic monument still remain within the grounds of the Abbey ruins.


All Nightmare Long – Shapeshifting Fairy of Slane

Slane Castle itself has protections pre-dating any of its prominent families. The Púca is a shape-shifting fairy of the Unseelie (Dark) persuasion. It transforms usually into a dark, terrifying steed with eyes of burning embers. If you are unfortunate enough to cross its path as a weary traveller and mount the mischievous beast, you will be taken the length and breadth of Ireland on the most frightening ride of your life, to arrive back at dawn, aged and weary.

Purify – Ancient Well of the Tuatha Dé Danann

In the grounds of Slane Castle, close to the river, lies an ancient well of mystical significance. It was blessed by the Alchemist Dian Cecht, physician to the Demi-god race, the Tuatha Dé Danann. He cast a spell of healing upon it, so injured warriors of the supernatural race could heal from any mortal wound other than beheading. In subsequent years it has become known as a Christian Holy Well and its waters are believed to continue to have restorative properties.

So if you are heading to Slane to see Metallica, take a moment to take in the history and supernatural occurrences where you stand, then enjoy the music and embrace it all – nothing else matters. 


Dún an Óir

On the Dingle peninsular lies the Viking settlement of Smerwick Harbour. On it was built the settlement of Dún an Óir, also known as ‘Fort del Oro’ or ‘The Fortress of Gold’. In the latter 16th century explorers returning from the Arctic hit a reef and sank their ship with a cargo hold full of black gold. This was later to be revealed as Fool’s Gold and the worthless load was said to be utilised as building blocks for the fort.

In 1579, James Maurice Fitzgerald initiated the Second Desmond Rebellion against the English and those who sided with them. He took position with his men at Smerwick and was slain within the month. Undeterred, the rebellion continued and Pope Gregory XIII sent Papal troops in September of 1580, led by Sebastian di San Giuseppe to give aid to Fitzgerald’s army.

Although only numbering around 600 in total, thanks to the arms and money brought over from Europe, the men of Desmond were able to hold off the English who were in a holding pattern until the arrival of Admiral Winter and the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Arthur Grey, together with a few thousand naval personnel.

Trapped by the ships blockade in the bay, Grey’s men advancing and the daunting Mount Bandon behind them, Giuseppe had no choice but to order his men to retreat to Dún an Óir. They battled on for three days as the English laid siege to the fortress, however they were left with no alternative but to surrender without condition.

In November of 1580, overseen by Sir Walter Raleigh, the Rebellion and Papal Troops were gathered and the officers led away. The remaining 600 or so men were taken to a field now known as ‘Gort a Gherradh’ or ‘The Field of Cutting’ for execution. Every last man was put to his knees and beheaded.

The heads were buried together in a field and the bodies thrown without ceremony into the sea. It is said these soldiers were the lucky ones as the officers were to suffer a worse fate. The higher ranking men were told to immediately denounce their Catholic faith in order to receive a life sentence. The captives’ refusal to do so led to their limbs being fractured multiple times, after which they were left in agony for a day before being dragged out and hanged.

In later years, some would say the dead had their revenge, as although only acting on instruction, Raleigh was charged with atrocities pertaining to the events at Dún an Óir as well as the Main Plot against James I, which led to his own execution.

Centuries later the fort is ruins, victim of an unforgiving sea and the field in which the heads of the soldiers are buried has been named ‘Gort na gCeann’. A sculpture has been placed here to commemorate the dead of the Second Desmond Rebellion, but this is not enough to let their spirits rest in peace.

The harsh erosion of the Atlantic coast is said to have brought skulls and skeletons forth from their burial site and on the anniversary of the massacre the tormented souls call out. Many have heard voices crying out in Spanish, the agonising sounds of fear and suffering not needing translation and on the wind the horrific stench of rotting flesh is carried out to sea. If you stand on Smerwick Harbour remember you stand on centuries old violent history and bloodshed. If you are standing there in November, the men of the Second Desmond Rebellion will not let you forget it.