Newgrange, or 'Mansion of the Boyne, is a 5000 year old burial chamber, with a stone passage and a mysterious domed chamber in the middle. Just 5 miles from the town of Slane, visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage site are given an hour long tour of the monument. This includes entry to the stone passage and chamber, and time to look at some amazing carvings into the stone. Tickets can be bought from the visitors' centre, where you have to park and catch a bus to the burial mound.
Newgrange pre-dates the Pyramids of Giza, and yet when you walk into the monument, the stonework looks fresh and almost modern. Incredibly, the monument is entirely man-made, and something remarkable happens every year on the Winter Solstice. At dawn each year, the rising sun shines directly into the monument, illuminating the room within.
The ancient builders engineered this to occur, and archaeologists think that this may have been a ritual to remember the dead and departed. In the 1960s, archaeologists found the remains of at least five people, placed carefully in little alcoves, or niches, in the chamber. As part of the visitor experience, the chamber is plunged into darkness and then gradually lit, to simulate the Solstice sunrise. It is magnificent.
Neolithic Carvings, the world's oldest Gallery
This place has a very powerful spiritual and creative feel to it. This is largely due to the remains of swirling and geometric carvings. The builders of this place decorated many of the larger stones, and the carved patterns look very beautiful. It was raining during our visit, which made the stones almost glow. I found it a very moving experience. The guides that take visitors into the monument also make the experience very meaningful, and they are on hand to answer any questions.
Some more of the carvings around the monument. These were the most intricate.
The small stone opening at the entrance, that lets the dawn light shine along the passageway and in to the chamber every year.
Newgrange was rediscovered by accident in 1699, and over the following 400 years, it has been painstakingly restored to how it looks today. Archaeologists believe that the mound was originally clad in polished Quartz stone and smooth stones, and many of these were found during excavations. In some ways, the outside of the building is as beautiful and impressive as the inside, with its bold shapes and sheer height (over 13 meters). Newgrange is also one of only two sites in Ireland to be given UNESCO World Heritage status.
The impressive outside structure
We were given free entry to the monument, as the permanent exhibition building is being refurbished. There were some food and drink facilities and toilets at the carpark, but this is not the case once tours begin. They last one hour, so it is advisable to use these beforehand. There is also a chance to enter the 'Solstice Lottery', and be one of only six people who is picked to experience the real dawn sunrise from within the monument.
The view as visitors wait to walk in to the passage.