Whew! Made it!
In between our wild adventures getting to and from Brú na Bóinne, we did find a way to visit the historical landmark we came to see, legendary passage tomb Newgrange. This stone age structure predates the Great Pyramid of Giza and Stonehenge, making it one of the oldest buildings still in existence.
|View of Newgrange from Bottom of the Hill|
The structure was built by a small civilization that lived in the valley of the River Boyne 5,000 years ago. It is not entirely clear what exactly the structure was used for, but most modern scholars suggest it was tomb or temple.
The inner structure interestingly cross-shaped, just like many modern European cathedrals. It has a long entrance tunnel that leads to a central chamber with right, left, and rear "transepts" like a church. Some cremated human remains were found in the excavation, but archaeologists can only guess as to their significance.
The building itself is considered a marvel of stone age art and engineering. The structure is ringed with elaborately decorated kerb (curb) stones. The most famous and impressive stone is the entrance stone, with its characteristic swirls.
The inner chamber features some of the most complex building engineering of its day. The roof of the structure is built with overlapping stones, shaped as to perfectly connect and support the roughly dome-shaped ceiling. It would have been built from the ground up with stones before being buried under several meters of earth. The structure is totally waterproof and is standing strong after 5,000 years. Most of those years it sat abandoned and buried.
While it would be impossible (and redundant) to describe all the quirks and theories of Newgrange here, we must discuss its most famous feature. The entrance tunnel is oriented so that on the days around and on the Winter Solstice, the angle of the rising sun allows a beam of morning light to illuminate the inner chamber. It is well known that many ancient peoples followed the movements of the sun and stars, and Newgrange offers a durable glance into the significance assigned to the seasons by this ancient tribe.
Check out this video from the Office of Public Works, taken at the Solstice in 2007.
When taking the tour, the tour guide runs an artificial simulation of the sun effect for non-Solstice visitors. The sun shines in a very small, specially-designed hole above the entrance. The entry tunnel slopes slightly up, so the sun only lights the floor of the main chamber for a few minutes. This was probably by design. Tickets to visit Newgrange during sunrise on the Winter Solstice days are available only by lottery and are non-transferrable.
|Cory and Sara at Newgrange Entrance|
Totally Unsolicited Travel Tips
- Newgrange and its sister tombs Knowth and Dowth are all part of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, which is open year-round. Knowth, another underground building, is only open from Easter to mid-October, so we didn't see it on this visit. Dowth, another tomb in the complex, is not open to the public as work continues.
- While we famously (?) took Bus Eireann public transport to the site, it certainly wasn't the easiest way to get there. We did so by necessity only. While we didn't use any of the various tour companies offering Newgrange travel, it might have been a little easier and worth a few extra Euro. Mary Gibbons offers a day of guided travel to Brú na Bóinne, Slane, and the Hill of Tara. Over the Top Tours offers shuttle transport only to Brú na Bóinne.
- Take some time to check out the very informative museum in the Visitor Centre. Tours leave at scheduled times, so you might have time to check out the museum before or after the Newgrange and/or Knowth tour. Either way, take your time looking at the archaeological, topographical, and... theological (?) exhibits in the museum. A highlight is the short film with animated views of Newgrange. A near full-size model of the interior of Newgrange allows visitors to explore the room more thoroughly because...
- The visit to the actual Newgrange tomb is very informative, but very brief. Tour guides are very knowledgeable and the subject of the tour speaks for itself, but tours inside the tomb are short. It's pretty tight in there, and the next tour group is always waiting just outside the entrance.