What Lord Henry termed a “very weird week” began with the return of the portrait of an illustrious ancestor that had been badly damaged when a fire gutted part of Slane Castle in 1991.
The week was now ending with Eminem becoming the latest music megastar to play on the sloping grounds of this historic site outside of Dublin, Ireland.
Some 80,000 partying fans were waiting for Eminem’s imminent arrival as the present lord of the castle, Lord Henry, took a moment to show a reporter the 18th-century painting of his great-great-great-great-grandfather Henry Paget that was finally back home.
Clad in a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt, Lord Henry noted that Paget had at least nine horses shot out from under him as he led the decisive charge of the heavy cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo. Paget finally had been struck in his right leg by a cannon shot.
“By God, sir, you’ve lost your leg,” the Duke of Wellington exclaimed, by Lord Henry’s recounting.
“My God, sir, so I have,” Paget is said to have replied.
The portrait was hanging on a wall facing a first-floor window overlooking the stage, where the extreme opposite of such verbal expression was about to be exercised with a radically different sense of cool.
“A poet of his generation,” Lord Henry said.
Near the site rose Slane Hill, atop which Saint Patrick is said by some to have lit his first Paschal fire to announce the arrival of Easter in the fifth-century days when he was converting pagan Ireland to Christianity.
And just beyond the stage was the River Boyne, where the Protestant King William defeated the Catholic King James in 1690.
“Centuries ago, people came to the banks of the Boyne to kill each other,” Lord Henry said. “Now they come here to have fun.”
In another contrast, the first rock concert at Slane was held in 1981, at the height of the hunger strikes mounted by Republican prisoners in the North. Lord Henry had been a devout rock fan back in his undergraduate days at Harvard, and the thought of holding concerts on the Slane grounds had seemed a logical extension of a local festival featuring Gaelic sports that had long been held there every August 15.
The first concert had been headlined by Thin Lizzy, with a then-little-known band named U2 as the warmup act. U2 ended up living in the castle for a time and recorded their 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire there.
“How weird is that?” Lord Henry asked.
The weirdness being that the presciently titled album preceded the blaze that he would never forget. He had joined local firefighters in saving the Paget portrait. He was briefly hospitalized and left forever thankful that his family had not been in the castle at the time.
The castle was not insured against such a catastrophe, but the ensuing concerts helped fund the long reconstruction.
“This castle is rebuilt on rock and roll,” Lord Henry noted.
Among the many notables who performed here were the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Madonna. There was also, as Lord Henry’s T-shirt affirms, Guns N’ Roses, who played the year after the fire. Bruce Springsteen kicked off his Born in the U.S.A. Tour here.
“A legendary gig,” Lord Henry said.
Eminem was scheduled to perform at the castle to a sold-out crowd in 2005, but he canceled shortly beforehand, pleading exhaustion. Lord Henry made no mention of the missed gig when he welcomed the latest star to Slane on Saturday evening. Eminem asked for some Slane Castle T-shirts for his daughter.
The rapper of legend prepared to step onto the stage as the sun set behind the castle. Rain had swept through earlier, and many of the concertgoers waiting on the sodden natural amphitheater had heeded advice to wear the rubber boots known as Wellingtons, which incidentally are said to have been invented by the duke of that name. Some of the newspapers would later make much of a few arrests for rowdiness, but with those exceptions the crowd was remarkably well behaved and in great spirits.
The lights were on in the window of the room where the portrait of Paget hung, meticulously restored by Lord Henry’s sister-in-law, Siobhan Conyngham, to its full glory as it was originally painted by the renowned portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence. Paget seemed to be gazing down on Eminem, who proceeded to show how talent and hard work have made him a 40-year-old white guy who continues to command total respect in the rap world.
Paget’s great-great-great-great-grandson stood as no less an improbable figure, widely liked via the magic of music and a sense of fun despite being a titled aristocrat in a country that honors and cherishes its rebels.
But you still had to wonder what Paget would have thought of the rapper, whom Lord Henry referred to as “the gentleman from Detroit.”