Archaeology Travel Itinerary

Newgrange and the winter solstice: The magic of Ireland

By on 21 December 2016

Available in: itItaliano

Ireland that everyone knows is made of green fields, music, and of course beer. The pub, indeed, the Irish pub is the real institution of this land exported all over the world. But it is also a land of traditions, certainly of Celtic nature, but also a land of myths and legends, which give it a special charm.

And today, the winter solstice, as every year the eyes are all facing the most popular place for Irish prehistory, namely Brú na Bóinne (which is Gaelic for “the Boyne dwelling”).

The most important Irish archaeological site consisting of 90 monuments from the Neolithic along the Boyne River, among which the three mounds of Knowth, Dowh and Newgrange. And it is in the latter that every year the magic happens, the sun meets the land. The rebirth of the sun, so much important to ancient peoples because it indicated the year’s shortest day.

Darkness perhaps frightened, no one knows, very pragmatically instead meant many more hours to work and beautiful season was coming. Then harvests, prosperity and wellness, after the harsh winter months as they know to be usual in Ireland.

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More commonly known as Newgrange, but in reality, this is only one of its monuments. This is the Ireland’s largest circular mound, with a diameter of 80 meters, built around 3200 BC from a civilization from Brittany and the Iberian Peninsula.

The complex consists of a huge mound of land which opens at the center of a corridor 19 m leading to a cross-shaped central chamber with three other rooms and a tholos vault built with dry stone slabs. Even today we are surprised of how they could build such a structure that still remains waterproof.

Outside, the mound is surrounded by a high perimeter wall made of black and white quartz (restored by archaeologists) and by a circle of 97 stones, among which the central one in front of the gateway and its corresponding on the opposite side are special. These two stones are different because they are carved and decorated with spiral patterns and lozenges, as they were found in many other prehistoric cultures.

Even today no one knows why it was built, over the years several theories have been advanced. What is known for sure is due to its discoverer, as always, quite by accident.

It was December 21, 1967 when the archaeologist Michael J. O’Kelly saw the light enter inside the darkened central chamber. The surprise was enormous, he realized that the square opening above the door of access was not only due to structural reasons.

The latter, in fact, was built to allow the first sunlight of the winter solstice to cross the hall (and I can tell you that is not so straight as you may think) and illuminate a precise point of the central chamber floor.

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Kilkenny and Cork

Click on the picture and you’ll get inside the central chamber with 360° view

No word yet if the first ray of sun was going to illuminate some object or tomb, but what I know is that I would give anything to be able to been in that room during a winter solstice!

And if you are lucky there is a remote chance to participate in the annual event of the “Lottery of the Solstice”. Every year sixty people can win permission to participate. I tried and I’ll try again until I can see that ray of sunshine to enter, cross the hall and slam against the floor. You?

But similar constructions, related to the winter solstice, are everywhere around the world, from Stonehenge to the unpronounceable Sacsayhuaman in Peru. Everywhere in the ancient world the man still felt close contact with nature. Through these buildings he was looking for a direct contact, perhaps even one-way. I think that once again we should learn from our ancestors, we should start to respect the world we live in and not dominate it like it was ours alone.

How to get to Newgrange

So let’s see how to reach the archaeological site from Dublin and Belfast. The visitor center where you can catch several routes to see the whole complex is located near the town of Drogheda, about 40 km from Dublin. The archaeological park is equipped with a large parking where you can leave the car and proceed with the coach. At the entrance welcomes you to a beautiful interactive museum that reconstructs the ages and stages of the archaeological site.


From Dublin:

If you have a rental car it is easy to reach via the M1 motorway, exiting at Meath (Exit 9) at the roundabout keep left and follow the direction to the destination Donore (about 5km).

Otherwise you can find many organized tours that depart from Dublin

From Belfast:

(Which is about 125 km) the road is like, just follow the M1 motorway, exit at Meath (exit 9) and follow the direction to the destination Donore (about 5Km).




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Sono Alberto, un creatore di Itinerari, appassionato di Fotografia e Viaggiatore lento.

Why not? è un contenitore di esperienze che si evolve insieme a me. Mi piace costruire il mio viaggio, studiare e trovare la vera essenza dei luoghi e delle persone che incontro lungo la mia strada.

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