The Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange sits on the top of a ridge within a large bend in the Boyne River. It is the most visited archaeological site in Ireland. It is over 5000 years old and pre-dates the first phase of Stonehenge by 1000 years and the Egyptian pyramids by 400 years. It is a truly magnificent structure with a façade of quartz that glistens in the sun making it one of the Ireland’s most memorable sights.
The three main prehistoric sites of the Brú na Bóinne complex, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth have Unesco World Heritage Site status. Together, they are Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art. Newgrange has some stunning examples of megalithic art, including the beautifully carved entrance stone (kerbstone 1) and kerbstone 52.
Newgrange Kerbstone 52
Kerbstone 52 is a superb example of artistic achievement. On the left it has spirals on top and lozenges below and on the right the art is more integrated mainly consisting of a series of oval-shaped motifs and arcs.
Newgrange is famous for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage there is a roof-box. This allows sunlight to penetrate the chamber on the shortest days of the year, around December 21, the Winter Solstice. At dawn, from the 19th to the 23rd of December every year, a narrow beam of sunlight penetrates the roof-box moving along the passageway and reaching the floor of the chamber. As the sun rises, the single light-beam widens within the chamber, dramatically illuminating the whole chamber.
Today, access to Newgrange is allowed only via the Brú Na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Tickets are sold for timed access; to limit the impact victors can have on the site.
While Newgrange is by far the most famous of the three Boyne Valley passage-tombs, Knowth is probably the most impressive in terms of size and megalithic art. Knowth contains one quarter of all known megalithic art in Europe, has two passages and a total of 18 smaller “satellite mounds”.
The two passages have a lunar rather than a solar function. It seems that the builders of this monument had an exceptional understanding of the complicated movements of the Moon. This knowledge would have enabled them to predict eclipses and other astronomical events.
Knowth’s astonishing quantity of art is very impressive. There is significant decoration on many of the kerbstones, in both passages and inside some of the satellite monuments.
Dowth is the least visited of the Passage Tombs in Brú na Bóinne and is not part of the tour from the visitor centre. Yet there is a natural, raw beauty to the site. Dowth is 90m in diameter and 15m high and surrounded by kerbstones, some of which are decorated. Dowth has two internal passages, both situated on the western perimeter. Several of the upright stones in the passages and chambers are decorated with spirals, chevrons, lozenges and circles. Dowth shares a solar alignment with neighbouring Newgrange during the winter solstice.
A visit to the Brú na Bóinne sites is a trip that you will never forget. After going through the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Centre you will find yourself in a very natural environment; the river, farm fields and grazing cows. A feeling grabs you as you walk around Newgrange and Knowth, of the sheer brilliance of the Neolithic people, the richness and depth of their knowledge and their ability to wonder and create such architectural and symbolic monuments. You feel linked to a culture that leads back to our ancestors, the early farmers and settlers on the land.
Newgrange and Knowth top my list of favourite places. The Wise Celt Candle inspired by these ancient monuments is the Triskele or triple circle. The matching fragrance is Meadow Lily reminiscent of the fertile meadows that surround these ancient mounds.
The Brú na Bóinne Visitors Centre is open all year round except for December 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th.