Nestled away in County Meath, Ireland, lies a series of megalithic complexes including three passage-mounds – Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth together forming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are more passage mounds in Ireland than anywhere else in the world.
During the Neolithic period, 5000-7000 years ago, Europe from the western Mediterranean islands to Europe’s Atlantic coast was a happening place. Although scattered over 1000s of miles, the archaeological remains from this time show evidence of a shared cultural experience characterized by: large-scale stone monuments that work like giant calendars, spiral art forms, and stone bowls with funerary remains. Despite extensive research in the area, scholars still do not agree on the purpose of these megalithic structures. What we do know is that it took many generations to build them, and they probably served a number of purposes over time.
You get to the Newgrange passage mound through the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre has the ticket counter, a museum, restaurant, a shop, and the shuttle stop. From the Visitor Centre, you take the shuttle which runs very regularly throughout the day.
At the site of the mound, a guide meets you and gives you a brief history of the site and then, with a warning to the claustrophobic or handicapped, leads the group to the passage tomb.
Stone-age farmers built the mound 5,200 years ago. It is a staggering 85 meters across, 13.5 meters high, and covers an area of about 1 acre.
The outside wall of the Newgrange passage mound is made of alternating layers of earth and stones, with grass growing on top. Its reconstructed facade is covered with flat stones and rounded grey cobbles.
Newgrange is surrounded by 97 large stones called kerbstones, some of them engraved with megalithic art.
The entrance to the Newgrange passage mound has a carved kerbstone in front.
The stone-age builders constructed a light box – a small, carefully oriented hole through the wall – to bring light into the passage at certain times of the year only. Throughout Neolithic Britain, light boxes align with the equinoxes and solstices, so they work like giant calendars, helping the Neolithic farmers keep track of the changing seasons.
The roof is fairly low and the passage quite narrow. You walk a very short distance to the inner chamber, and must squeeze between tightly packed stones along the way.
A passage measuring 19 meters (21 yards) leads into a chamber with 3 alcoves. The passage and chamber line up with the rising sun at the Winter Solstice. Unfortunately, photography inside the mound is forbidden.
Visiting Newgrange is a highlight of any trip to the Emerald Isle.