To visit Slemish start at Glenarm or Carnlough depending which way you are heading. Whatever direction you start from, you will drive up one glen and down the other. The unique shape and composition of Slemish gives away its geological past, it is a remnant of a volcano, one of several that poured out vast lava flows covering the landscape some 60 million years ago during the Paleogene period (Lower Tertiary) . This period of volcanic activity was also responsible for creating the Giant's Causeway.
After the final eruptions the lava in the vents slowly solidified and millions of years of erosion followed including several ice-ages which carried gigantic erratics for hundreds of miles leaving what we see today, the solidified dolerite vent which was or is part of a volcanic plug either formed in situ or carried here by an ice flow. With no other peaks around, the views and sense of height from the top of Slemish is wonderful, access is via a steep rough path from a car park near the base. The top is 437 metre high (1430 feet). It is a wonderful spot on a clear summer day with panoranic views over the whole Braid Valley, Sperrins and Belfast Hills.
The area around Slemish is where Patricius (Saint Patrick) was brought after being sold as a slave to Milchu, a local chieftain. At this time, frequent raiding was taking place from Ireland to Scotland, England and Wales, slave trading and use of slaves was common practice. Many believe the raiding party came from the Sconce above Articlave. This was a strategic fort and power base at the time, any slaves captured in the raids would have been brought back here before being sold on. The Sconce at Articlave which is on the Causeway Coastal Route has associations with Niall of the Nine Hostages.
Patrick in later life wrote the ‘Confessio’ which tells of his experiences in Ireland, in it he write:
I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people…..’
He worked as a herdman for Milchu, and during the six years he spent in enforced servitude he endured many hardships but also found his spiritual calling and faith. At this time the area would have been forested with the peak of Slemish rising out of it, He writes…
’ after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.’
He decided to escape from servitude under Milchu after hearing a voice in a dream which prophesied to him, He writes: 'And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: 'You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.' And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: 'Behold, your ship is ready.' And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid o nothing), until I reached that ship.
He eventually made it back to his family in England after many ordeals. He is then thought to have studied in Northern France and returned to Ireland after another prophetic dream. Amazingly, when he arrived back in Ireland he went first to his old master Milchu whom he converted to Christianity.
It is believed that Milchu gave him land where he built a church, today this is where Skerry Church is sited. A stone with footprint indented in it is said to be that of the archangel Gabriel who appeared to Patrick before he escaped his servitude.
Patrick also advised Fergus the son of the king of Dalriada who gave him land at Armoy on which the monastic settlement of Armoy was built, Fergus became the first Christian king in Ireland. Around North Antrim you will find lots of links to Patrick and also those who followed him like St. Gobain (Glenshesk) and St Olcan (Armoy).
Slemish is also the place where Henry Joy McCracken and a few others United Irishmen hid out for several days from government soldiers after their defeat at the Battle of Antrim in June, 1798. After avoiding the pursuing troops they made their way across the Antrim Plateau and took shelter in a safe house near Greenisland. Here they stayed while friends arranged money and a boat to take them to Scotland. As they made their way along the shore road two soldiers recognised Henry Joy and they were arrested and taken to Carrickfergus. Henry Joy who was commander of the Ulster Army at Antrim was hanged at the Cornmarket in Belfast.