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Newgrange (Bru na Boinne)
Newgrange is a Stone Age monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange was constructed over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) during the Neolithic period, which makes it older than Stonehenge and Great Pyramids of Giza. Newgrange is a large circular mound with a stone passageway and chambers inside. The mound is ringed by 97 large kerbstones. Newgrange was built by a farming community that prospered on the rich lands of the Boyne Valley. Knowth and Dowth are similar mounds that together with Newgrange have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Archaeologists classified Newgrange as a passage tomb, however Newgrange is now recognised to be much more than a passage tomb. Ancient Temple is a more fitting classification, a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance, much as present day cathedrals are places of prestige and worship where dignitaries may be laid to rest.
Newgrange is a large kidney shaped mound covering an area of over one acre, retained at the base by 97 kerbstones, some of which are richly decorated with megalithic art. The 19 metre long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. The amount of time and labour invested in construction of Newgrange suggests a well-organized society with specialised groups responsible for different aspects of construction. Newgrange is part of a complex of monuments built along a bend of the River Boyne known collectively as Brú na Bóinne. The other two principal monuments are Knowth (the largest) and Dowth, but throughout the region there are as many as 35 smaller mounds.
The passage and chamber of Newgrange are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn on the Winter Solstice and for a few mornings either side of the Winter Solstice.
Admission to the Newgrange chamber for the Winter Solstice sunrise is by lottery, application forms are available at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. About 30,000 applications are submitted annually. In September each year, 50 names are drawn with 2 places are awarded to each person drawn.
The passage tomb complex lies to the west of Newgrange. The large mound covers two passage tombs placed back to back which is surrounded by 127 massive kerbstones. Outside this large passage tomb there are eighteen small tombs Over three hundred decorated stones make up Knowth which represents the greatest concentration of Megalithic art in Western Europe. Recurring motifs on these stones include, circles serpentine forms and spirals. One of the most impressive features of Knowth is the corbelled roof in the eastern tomb ascending to a massive height of almost 6m.
World Heritage Site
Newgrange has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and attracts 200,000 visitors per year. There is no direct access to the Passage Tomb at Newgrange, access is by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre located close to the village of Donore, Co. Meath. The last tour of Newgrange is 90 minutes before closing time of the Visitor Centre. Groups of 15 or more must book in advance.
Images from inside the chamber at Newgrange including the tri-spiral design on orthostat C10 which is probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. It is often referred to as a Celtic design, but it was carved at least 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland. At 12 inches in diameter the tri-spiral design is quite small in size, less than one-third the size of the tri-spiral design on the entrance stone.
Dowth is the least well known of the other two although it compares in size. The mound is surrounded by a kerb of 115 stones and has two tombs facing westwards. On the 21st of December, the rays of the setting sun illuminate this passage and circular manner in manner similar to the winter solstice at Newgrange. At least thirty-eight of the stones at Dowth contain megalithic art, the circle meaning the most common motif used. In general, the art at Dowth is less impressive compared to Newgrange and Knowth.
Twelve Standing Stones survive of what may have been an arc at the front of the mound or possibly a complete circle of about 35 stones surrounding the mound.