About 50 km north of Dublin is one of Ireland’s finest historical sites and certainly one of the oldest. This is the Newgrange cluster of Passage Tombs, the oldest of which dates back to 3200 BC, making it about 5000 years old.
We took a day-long guided bus trip out there on Saturday. The guide, Mary Gibbons, talked almost nonstop there and back without any notes, giving us a fascinating talk about the archaeology and history of Ireland. She seems to know something about everything. Probably the best guide we have had anywhere so far on our adventures. Blogs like this need to be short but if interested in more information about Newgrange, etc, see Mary’s website at http://newgrangetours.com/ .
The tomb is circular, about 80 metres in diameter and about 10 metres high. It is constructed of stones without the use of mortar and it has remained intact since it was built, with no internal stones falling and with no leaks, a remarkable achievement in a place so pluvial. It was pointed out to us that the nearby Visitor Centre, about 15 years old, is already having roof leaks! We were allowed inside in small groups as the passage is very narrow, dark and claustrophobic although it widens out at the centre. Interestingly, at the end of the passage there are three anterooms giving the whole area a cruciform appearance although of course it predates Christianity by about 3000 years.
It has been built with very high accuracy. At the midwinter solstice on 21 December each year, exactly 4 minutes after sunrise, the sun shines through a hole above the door and illuminates the passage with a shaft of light going right to the end for 17 minutes. Apparently, the effect is dramatic. (Of course, it relies on there being no cloud cover on the day, not an easy ask in a modern-day Irish winter.) The original builders were sun worshippers and this connection of the sun with the dead must have been very important as many of the stones used weigh several tons and came from quite a distance away and there were no domestic animals around at the time to help transport them. The time of construction also, they think, predated the invention of the wheel, so everything would have been dragged. It is estimated that the building of this tomb took three generations to complete. Curious geometric patterns are etched onto some of the stones but no-one has yet been able to interpret their meaning. They remind me slightly of Australian aboriginal drawings.
On the same day we visited the hill of Tara where ancient Irish kings were crowned and buried. This place still has a lot of significance for Ireland and as with Newgrange, was first settled in the Neolithic period. The view is superb, being 360 degrees and taking in 14 of Ireland’s 32 counties.
Although the day was dry, there was quite a bit of mist, particularly in the morning, which meant that some of the distance shots shown below are a little fuzzy. Hopefully it still gives some idea of the green and wooded nature of the Irish countryside.