The Newgrange Monument in the Boyne Valley is one of the must-see places while on your walking holiday in Ireland. And it is just 30 minutes from Dublin and the Cooley Peninsula in Ireland’s Ancient East.
The father of Oscar Wilde (William Wilde) wrote of the Boyne that the history of Ireland could be traced through its monuments. This is indeed still true today. Moreover, its sites and monuments are amongst the best examples of their kind in Europe. These include the medieval town of Drogheda. The great prehistoric tombs at Brú Na Bóinne (Newgrange) and the site of the infamous Battle of the Boyne. And they are all within a short distance of each other.
Newgrange, Ireland’s best-known Neolithic tomb, is a beautiful testament to Ireland’s pre-Christian era. The tomb dates from around c 3,200 B.C. and is the most prominent monument of Brú-na-Bóinne. It predates the Biblical pyramids by 400 years and Stonehenge by 1000. In 1993 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A Temple or a Tomb?
We know the prosperous farming communities of the Boyne Valley in the Neolithic or New Stone Age built these magnificent passage tombs. They cremated the remains of the deceased and placed them on large stone basins in alcoves in the chamber, which were accompanied by symbolic offerings and gifts. What is still a mystery to us in the 21st century is whether the Mesolithic builders of Newgrange intended it to be a tomb or a temple.
Knowth and Dowth are worth a visit!
The Brú na Bóinne area encompasses 90 other archaeological sites, and Newgrange belongs to a more substantial complex within the Boyne Valley that includes around 35 tombs. Two sites which are less well-known but undoubtedly worth visiting are Knowth and Dowth.
Impressive Engineering and craftsmanship
To describe the complexity and wonder of Newgrange, you could start by visualising the 97 kerb stones surrounding the passage tomb; the most impressive is the large entrance stone decorated in fabulous Celtic swirls, symbols and designs. Travelling through the vast mound, you will see a long passage slowly rising into a burial chamber. The corbelled roof inside the chamber remains watertight and remarkably supports an estimated 200k tonne of stone and earth. The kerbstones of Newgrange have been quarried at Clogherhead, about 15 km to the East and North of the monument.
Winter Solstice creates magic in Newgrange.
The central burial chamber is pitch-black nearly year-round because it is higher than the entrance. Above the door is an opening known as a roof box. Its purpose is to allow sunlight to penetrate the tomb to illuminate its inner chamber. This only occurs during Winter Solstice between the 18th and 23rd of December. On these dates, the sun rises over the hill at the proper position. This genuinely fantastic event brings many visitors to this historical attraction. Tens of thousands enter a draw each year for a limited number of tickets to enter the chamber during this time.
Newgrange Is Not Ireland’s highest Passage Tomb
It isn’t the only passage tomb in Ireland, of course. Some 60km to the north, on top of Slieve Gullion, you will find the highest passage grave in Ireland. Slieve Gullion offers a fantastic walking route in one of our most famous hiking tours on the Cooley Peninsula and the Mourne Mountains.
You can visit Newgrange year-round through guided tours from the Bru na Boinne Visitors Centre. These tours are the only way to gain access to the burial chamber. For tickets and opening hours to Newgrange, check this link: http://www.worldheritageireland.ie/bru-na-boinne/visitor-information/.