After visiting the Hill of Tara, we traveled closer to the River Boyne, which was an important prehistoric trade route and whose valley was (and still is) rich with abundant farmland. Horses grazed on its banks; the Irish honey I use in my tea comes from this area.
We crossed a footbridge over the turgid, fast-moving water from the visitor’s center to catch a bus up to the site.
Newgrange is a passage tomb and astrological observatory found on someone’s farmland and excavated over a thirteen-year period in the early 60s-mid 70s. It was built around 3200 B.C. , almost 500 years before the Pyramids in Egypt and 1000 years before Stonehenge.
There are kerb stones ringing the structure that have designs carved into them. The swirl design is repeated on the entrance stone and within the tomb.
Very small groups are led by an archaeologist into the narrow passage, where one actually climbs a small incline up to the main vaulted chamber. My mom noted how in the roof there, the stones overlapped each other to form a dome (“corbelling”). Here’s an archaeological rendering I found so you can visualize. Isn’t it astonishing how the entire structure is essentially what is still a Celtic cross?
In addition to burial purposes, Newgrange is kind of a chapel. The most important ceremonial activity known to take place there is the marking of time: on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the sun rises and pierces the roof box. A slim pencil of light draws itself closer and closer until reaching the main chamber. For seventeen minutes, as the sun climbs into the sky, the light streams in until the chamber glows with it. The archaeologist leading the tour asked us to imagine how, in the cold and dark winter months, this sign of renewal and coming warmth might be vital to a civilization.
The taxi driver who told me about Newgrange also told me about the annual lottery to be one of the handful of people chosen to be in the chamber at dawn during the winter solstice, to witness (if not too overcast) it as humans 5000 years ago did. I applied to be one of the people. We shall see if I have the luck of the blue lobster!
(click on the gallery if you’d like to see a few extra photos)