Newgrange is an ancient neolithic tombsite in County Meath Ireland. A mystical and haunting experience, it is open to the public and a truly fascinating place to visit!
Newgrange is one of the most awe-inspiring sites in all of Ireland. The traditional name for Newgrange is Brugh na Bóinne, which means Palace of the Boyne. The Boyne Valley is located in County Meath and is one of the most romantic, historic, prehistoric, and magical counties of Ireland. Once called Royal Meath, it was part of the Irish middle kingdom in the 2nd century BC. It contained the Hill of Tara, the seat of the High Kings (or Ard Ri) of Ireland. Such a royal area would need prestigious tombs fit for kings and their families. Newgrange is the largest of these neolithic passage tombs that are scattered around Meath. This impressive monument to Stone Age technology measures approximately 280 feet wide and stands about 40 feet high. Passage tombs at nearby Knowth and Dowth are dwarfed by its mighty presence. One single passage (82.5 feet in length) leads to a cruciform chamber, surrounded by side chambers that are believed to have housed the cremated remains of high-ranking families.
Archaeologists have been able to date Newgrange as having been constructed over 5,500 years ago, making it older than Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt. The main structure of Newgrange was surrounded by standing stones, only 12 of which are still standing. Smaller beehive-like enclosures can be found around it. The tumulus - or passage tomb for royalty - is constructed of granite and white quartz, which is striking against the green countryside. The growth of grass over the stones of the corbeled roof gives it the appearance of having grown out of the land itself, a faery mound perhaps.
Using white quartz is significant on two counts. The first is that white quartz is not readily available in County Meath. The Stone Age architects, craftsmen, and laborers would have to travel to the Wicklow Mountains to the south to mine their quartz quarries. The granite also was not found locally and would have been taken from the Mourne Mountains to the north. The journeys to these areas would have taken a week or more by canoe or other rudimentary means of travel. The current theory is that having white quartz and granite held great significance to the people that erected Newgrange. The quartz' energy giving properties perhaps. The second count is that sophisticated architectural knowledge to create a structure of this kind depended on a very precise engineering capability in order for the roof to stay in place. No mortar of any kind is used in the creation of Newgrange.
The exact function of Newgrange is not known. Most theories embrace it as a tumulus. Other theories also include it as not only a passage tomb but also a temple for a sun-worshipping people. The white quartz was only used on the eastern side of the tumulus, facing the sun. This would inspire the quartz's life-giving energy. Another interesting and curious feature of Newgrange is the roof-box that lies above the entrance to the tumulus. It is a rectangular opening that faces the sun and lets in the rays. On the dawn of the Winter Solstice, the sun comes in the opening and lights up the entire inner chambers. Other evidence that points towards sun-worshipping builders is the exquisite artwork found carved into the stones throughout Newgrange and the other passage tombs in the area of the Boyne Valley. No written language existed for the pre-Celtic tribes that created Newgrange. Therefore their artwork of elaborate patterns of loops, spirals, diamonds, and zigzags, and other geometric designs cannot be looked at without putting aside our contemporary anthropocentrism. We must look at this artwork as the expression of the spiritual longing for balance and harmony in nature. Many of these symbols have been interpreted as being symbols for the sun.
This incredibly haunting and ethereal structure is open to the public and is an amazing experience. Walking through the passage, with the carved stones embracing your shoulders as one squeezes through them-almost as if being born again-is an unforgettable feeling. Looking back to the entrance one realizes that the roof-box that was overhead on the way in is now at floor level. The waiting list to be inside Newgrange at dawn on the Winter Solistice is years-long. The organization which maintains and protects Newgrange has created a simulation for tourists visiting the site. After a group has made its way into the inner chamber, the artificial lighting is turned off and they are left in eerie black stillness until a light shines through the roof-box and lights up the chamber as if the sun at dawn.