Older than both Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt, the monument at Newgrange was built around 3,200 B.C.E. Its use is a mystery, although it was most likely a place of worship, and there are legends that it was used as a burial chamber. The main circular mound has a passage with small chambers off it, and each year on the winter solstice, the sun travels along the passage and lights up the main chamber. Many of the curbstones at the front and stone slabs lining the passage have decorative examples of megalithic art, with zigzags, spirals, and other geometric designs. Access to Newgrange is by guided tour, and it’s part of the Brú na Bóinne complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also has the passage graves at Knowth (on view by guided tour) and Dowth (not open to visitors).
Before the Great Pyramid was Newgrange
Newgrange was on my top five things to do while in Ireland. I had heard so much about it. When we got there, it was eerie to set foot on something that was built 5,000 years ago, before the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Knowth and Dowth are similar mounds that together with Newgrange have been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage at Newgrange is an opening called a roof-box. This baffling orifice held a great surprise for those who unearthed it. Its purpose is to allow sunlight to penetrate the chamber on the shortest days of the year, around December 21, the winter solstice. At dawn, from December 19 to 23, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending to the rear of the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This event lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9am. The tour guide told us that because only a small number of people can go inside at one time, the list of people signed up to see the Solstice is full for years ahead. But seeing it at any other time is definitely worth it, too.
Neolithic Newgrange Monument in County Meath, Ireland.
A Prehistoric Site
Make sure to stop by this prehistoric site if you are traveling between Dublin and Belfast or even take a day trip from either. Take in some history away from the major cities and pubs. Newgrange is older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids. Take the tour and learn the reasoning behind the structure. If you are in Ireland for Winter Solstice, try your chance at the lottery to be there when the sunlight goes into the passage way. For more pictures and information, check out my blog post.