Newgrange (Bru na Boinne)

Newgrange is one of the oldest sites in Europe, and is an excellent spot to see megalithic art.

Even though the Pyramids in Egypt, Macchu Picchu in Peru, and Angor Wat in Cambodia receive attention as some of the oldest structures on Earth, and rightfully so, there are other locations around the planet that are just as impressive, and just as mysterious. Out of all of these spots, it should come as no surprise that many of these structures are located in Ireland, and one of them, Newgrange, is considered one of the most important megalithic structures in Europe. Like the Poulnabrone Portal Tomb, the site at Newgrange is also a tomb, but is considered a passage tomb that was constructed at a similar time - items at Poulnabrone were dated at around 4200 B.C., and Newgrange was reportedly constructed around 3200 B.C., well before the construction of Stonehenge, and the aforementioned pyramids.

Constructed around 3200 B.C., the site at Newgrange is located on a triangle of land near the River Boyne.

While Pounlnabrone is an impressive location with an impressive capstone, the tomb at Newgrange is a location that is even more awe-inspiring in terms of architecture and construction. The Newgrange site is a large circular mound, that is two hundred and forty nine feet in diameter, that is thirty nine feet high. The circumference of the mound is also surrounded by ninety-seven large kerbstones, many of which are covered with extensive - and well preserved megalithic art. If all of this wasn’t interesting enough, the most impressive feature of Newgrange is the main chamber passage, which is also fronted by a spectacular carved kerbstone. This passage heads some sixty feet into the the interior of the tomb, and ends in a chamber in the center of the structure with an impressive vault roof and a number of separate alcoves. 

Other passage tombs are located nearby to Newgrange, but like Newgrange, have been hidden through the passage of time. 

While it is amazing that this passage is still intact and standing, that it survives pales in comparison to the fact that this passage is perfectly aligned with the rising sun on each winter solstice. What this means is that during each winter solstice, a narrow beam of light enters the tomb, and illuminates the tomb for a period of time. Such a sophisticated design belies any argument that our ancestors were not sophisticated, in that this structure was designed, constructed, and has stood the test of time for some five thousand years without the aid of modern math, modern equipment, or any modern science. Because of this, and other reasons, Newgrange and its surrounding area was named a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Since being rediscovered, the Newgrange site has been restored over an extended period of time.

Directions/Fees. Newgrange is located at Staleen Road, Donore, Co. Meath, A92 EH5C, Ireland, which is some fifty kilometers to the northeast of Dublin, but is accessible from many directions in Ireland. While it is well-signed in advance along numerous routes in Ireland, tourists that are driving should strongly consider having a portable GPS unit as part of their rental package to aid in route and location finding. The closest town to Newgrange is Drogheda, which is along the M1 expressway. Newgrange is the most popular - and most visited archeological monument in Ireland, with over 200,000 visitors yearly, so tourists should consider arriving early in the day to avoid the crowds. As of 2017, it costs seven euros for adults to tour the on site museum and the archeological site, and four euros for children. Access to Newgrange is only by the site run tour, so visitors should also be prepared to be part of a group when exploring the site. The site is open year-round, and while the hours vary, for a majority of the year, Newgrange opens at 9 a.m., and closes at 5 p.m. It is worth noting that visitors can be present in the interior chamber for the winter solstice, but such access is through a very competitive lottery system that is separate from a normal visit.

The site is bounded by a number of kerbstones, many of which have intricate carvings that have withstood the centuries.

The Museum/Tour. As noted above, access to Newgrange is by public tour only, which means that visitors will want to spend some time in the very well put together museum covering the site which provides information about the time period, construction of the tomb, and various other aspects of the region. The museum is also the jumping off-point for tours of the site, as visitors will have to cross a bridge over the Boyne River to the transportation hub, where tour busses pick up visitors before taking them on a fifteen minute ride to the actual tomb itself. From the drop-off point at the site, visitors have a great first view of the restored exterior of the site, before following their guide up a path toward the tomb. While there are many interesting facts about Newgrange (some listed here), one of the more interesting is that for centuries, the tomb was hidden in plain sight as it was covered by dirt and various other materials, before it was rediscovered in 1699 by Charles Campbell’s workers. Since that time, the site has been restored - and researched by a number of parties. 

Megalithic art at Newgrange.

After walking up to the tomb, the tour allows a pause for the obligatory photos of the site, and also allows visitors to take in the stunning views of the region, including two “hills” in the nearby distance that are uncovered tombs from the same era. After learning about the site, and the region from the guide, one will be lead in through the passage, where photographs and videos are not allowed. While, on the one hand it is somewhat disappointing in the modern era not to be able to do these things, for me, it made the tour that much more interesting, as it allowed me to focus on the site itself. At the end of the passage, one arrives in the central chamber, and learns about the best theories of what it was used for, and depending on the guide, will likely experience what it looks like (via flashlight) during the solstice. While the underlying religion, purpose, legends, and history of the site have been lost through the passage of time, it is a powerful location to be in, in that being inside a 5000 year old structure is an impressive feat by itself alone. Once the guide is done with the tour, one is led back out, and can explore the exterior of the building for as long as one wants before returning on a bus back to the museum. Overall, assuming one doesn’t have to wait in line for the bus, or lingers overly long at the site, the experience takes roughly an hour and a half.

Tips: The ceiling inside the tomb, while structurally sound, is quite low. If one is over 5’8 in height, chances are you will hit your head at least once. Separately, as I mentioned, while the construction of the tomb is impressive on its own, many people believe that the site has energy, or is a portal to another world, or location. While I can’t speak to those things, what I did observe during my visit was a woman on the tour faint unexpectedly while in the central chamber, so be sure to be ready for whatever may occur while on the tour!