Newgrange – Megalithic Passage Tomb, Ireland
Do you know of any building older than Stonehenge? How about the Great Pyramids in Egypt? Newgrange sited on a bend of the River Boyne in County Meath, which was built in 3200 BC, is over 5000 years old and is 1000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the Egyptian pyramids. Impressed? Well you should be!
It was built during the Neolithic or New Stone Age by Ireland’s first farmers. It is an ancient temple or passage tomb which held astrological, spiritual, ceremonial and funerary significance for the prehistoric Irish people. It is a large impressive circular stone mound with kerbstones covered in elaborate carvings and motifs; some of the earliest artwork in Ireland! A word of advice: be sure to bend over entering and exiting the tomb or you’ll end up with a nasty bump on your head! Inside the mound a long, dark passage leads to a chamber with a spectacular corbelled roof, which amazingly has never ever leaked in over 5000 years! Be warned if you have a fear of enclosed spaces then Newgrange is not for you!
Newgrange is famous worldwide for the dramatic illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun on the shortest day of the year through an opening above the doorway. In this way the tomb acted as a calendrical device for the farmers. Unfortunately, demand is so high that the only way to ensure a place inside that tomb on the winter solstice is through winning a free annual lottery draw (application forms available at the visitor centre). Even if you are one of the lucky ones and have secured a spot, but if it’s a typical Irish cloudy day and there’s no sun to be seen, well it’s a bit of a disappointment all round.
Other passage tombs
There are two other large passage tombs in the nearby area: Knowth and Dowth. Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth all yielded cremated remains. The complex of monuments, along with a number of smaller tombs, is known collectively as Brú na Bóinne. Unfortunately Dowth is not open to the public and the only access into Newgrange and Knowth is by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre just outside Donore Village. One can trust these local tour guides as they are highly entertaining and factual. There are a limited number of guided tours each day so you should make it a point to arrive at the opening time or even better book in advance.
The centre provides regular shuttle buses to and from Newgrange/Knowth but be sure to bring a raincoat as you will have to wait your turn to enter the tombs and there is no shelter. However, if you can afford, private tours by limo are also available!
What to see
If you’re interested in megalithic stone art then Knowth, which is open from Easter to October, is a must-stop for you. With over 200 decorated stones, it boasts a third of all megalithic art in Western Europe. The spirals and crescent shapes are truly mesmerising. The visitor centre has a quality audio visual presentation, a full scale replica of the chamber at Newgrange, as well as a model of a small tomb at Knowth.
An adult’s ticket for entry into the exhibition and Newgrange is available at the very reasonable price of €6, while an adult ticket for exhibition and entry into Newgrange and Knowth is €11. Reduced rates are available for seniors, children, families and groups. Newgrange is a 45 minute drive from Dublin. Shuttle buses leave Dublin daily from designated pick-up points throughout the city.