Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Newgrange is Ireland’s finest megalithic monument.
Today, when the sun rises on the morning of the winter solstice, this mythical tomb will reveal its ancient, astronomical secrets.
On the shortest day of the year, a shaft of light from the rising sun, enters the light portal, a small rectangular window above the entrance, passes through a stone passageway, before finally piercing the darkness of the inner burial chamber. The event lasts for about 17 minutes.
Newgrange has been dated to 3200 BC which makes it over 5000 years old. The precise orientation of this monument, to align with the rays of the rising sun on the shortest day of the year, and for a few days before and after, was no accident of nature. This incredible phenomenon is believed to have been carefully planned by those who designed and built this burial tomb.
The method of collection and movement of the large stones forming the inner passageway, and interlocking ceiling of the inner chamber, remains a mystery. These huge stones were probably dotted throughout the surrounding countryside, and moved uphill to the site. This required a coordinated, community effort with precise directions and goals.
The Tuatha De Dannan, the ancient mythological rulers of Ireland are credited with building Newgrange, as a burial-place for Daghda, their great leader and his three sons. Building of Grianan of Aileach in Co. Donegal is also attributed to Daghda. Irish folklore is replete with references to the mound at Newgrange, including links to Cuchulainn, Diarmuid of the Fianna, and The Children of Lir.
The exact identity of who this burial chamber was built for, remains unknown. Its complexity is an indicator of his importance. The builders of Newgrange, were skilled, intellectual mathematicians.
The roofbox is the term for the opening through which the sunlight enters.
Twelve standing stones form a circle around the tomb. Engraved, spiral motifs add to the mystery of the site.
The picture above provides a good dimensional reference. The ability to create such a small portal, with exact solar alignment on the shortest day of the year, is a true marvel of the ancient world.
The facade of the monument consists of sparkling white quartz. Periodically, egg-shaped, gray, granite stones protrude from the wall.
Newgrange is actually a large mound of stones covered in earth and grass, concealing its inner burial chamber. Over 200,000 tons of stone were positioned to create a water-tight chamber.
The site sits on top of an elongated ridge of land, tucked within a bend of the River Boyne. It is amongst 26 other ancient burial chambers in the Boyne Valley.
Here is a side view of the mound.
I visited Newgrange many times as a young girl. Many of my childhood, school, field trips from Dublin included a tour of this ancient site. Since the day I first heard of its mythical significance, I have dreamed of standing in the inner chamber on a winter solstice morning, to witness its magnificent illumination.
Only a lucky few each year experience the real thing. A lottery is held to choose those who will stand inside the dark, inner chamber awaiting the sun’s light. Now that my kids are getting older, I think I might throw my name in the hat. Who knows? Some year I may stand there to witness how light can find us, even in the darkest of places.
I pray today, Ireland finds hope in the light of Newgrange. Despite all the doom and gloom of recent months and years, our light can never be extinguished.
Slan agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom