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Travel

The musical connections in Slane Castle, Ireland

When U2 felt they were veering too heavily into the realm of stadium rock, they made the brave decision to decamp to Leinster, in an effort to let the pastoral scenery wash over them, in their hope to create something more holistic sounding. So, they found a castle in Meath, and set up there, unintentionally making a medieval ruin more palatable to visit for legions of rock fans.

Indeed, the venue has stood as a rock and roll habitat, incorporating the essence of rhythm against the vigour and power of an everyday chord display. Overlooking the River Boyne – the same river that is celebrated by the Orange Order, in their determination to bring pathos to the masses – the castle as it stands was built in 1785.

The castle stands as an emblem of great Protestant architecture, standing as one of the most impressive bastions of the Conyngham family. More recently it stood as a venture path for U2 – a three-quarter Protestant band – to demonstrate their view of Ireland. The Unforgettable Fire is commonly regarded as one of the band’s finest works, and in their 2022 retrospective, Far Out put it in the top three.

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It’s doubtful that the band could have completed the mosaic of sound if it had not been for the primal, pastoral green that surrounded them. Such is the beauty of the area, encompassing both the intellectual and the spiritual in its outlook, drawing in such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, U2, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queen, David Bowie, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The venue has brought out some of the most virile and minimalist performances from said acts, all of them playing to hungry Irish crowds, eager to taste something more vital.

Interestingly, Queen refrained from re-producing their rendition of ‘God Save The Queen’, out of respect for the Irish contingent that did not respect the royal family. A concert on the aristocratic ground was not grounds to reproduce a British anthem.

Weirdly, for a place that is so antiquated, it helped push the country to more modern territories. “The whole event blew me away,” Tony Fearon wrote, describing his memories of watching The Rolling Stones in 1982 performing at the castle. “The glamour, majestic settings, helicopters flying in and taking off, trying to spot celebrities watching from the castle, all dressed impeccably! This was the big time, no mistake, history in the making, and I was part of it. The biggest outdoor crowd I’d ever been a part of, since the Pope’s visit to the Phoenix Park three years earlier. How things have changed nowadays.”

Ireland can be divided into four provinces, each providing an interesting insight into the way the country is led: up North, we have Ulster, only a stone’s throw away from Scotland; to the West, we have Connaught, an agrarian landscape, bolstered by an appetite to preserve the Irish language. Munster, Ireland’s largest province, is a hybrid of Ireland’s facets, and then there’s Leinster, considered by many to be an extension of England, and her traditions.

The castle is under the ownership of one Lord Alexander Burton Conyngham, creating a sense of history and priority. Alex is very encouraging of the rock acts playing in his backyard.“Having grown up with the Slane Concerts in my back garden, I’ve come to realise the power of a live music experience, something that this extraordinary time has denied us,” he pronounced. “Although we can’t do a gig this year, we wanted to make sure we mark the occasion.”

On May 28th 2011, Kings Of Leon were invited to play as headliners for the 30th-anniversary event at Slane Castle, marking the area as a place of great resourcefulness and rock ingenuity. And the band have created a sense of priority and passion in the persuasion to bring the songs to new life. These days, the castle stands as one of the most important temples for rock, but it wasn’t always thus.

The first Slane concert – done with Thin Lizzy headlining on the grounds and rubble – was done against the back of Bobby Sands’ death and the hunger strikes of the era. For the Conyngham family, it was a tricky time to be Anglo and Protestant, but the acts – including Thin Lizzy – were startling.
Slane Castle can be found in the vicinity of Slane, which is in County Meath, an hour outside of Dublin.

The area is popular, not least because of the rock attraction, but it, like Glastonbury, is a tidy hybrid of building and bucolic, bringing a sense of history to the area. As it happens, the place stands up, because it represents Ireland: Deeply reverential of history, the area still manages to move forward, and forge a new perception of the country.