Don't expect too much spirituality here. Newgrange is a spectacular structure, now rebuilt and turned into a major (fee paying ... grrrr) tourist attraction. My first impressions where "WOW! What an amazing thing". The problem is, though, the fact that you have to go there via the visitor center and on an organised tour of the site. The guides are well informed, well meaning sorts and after all only doing a job, but you are not allowed to experience the site for yourself. Only 50 or so people are allowed there at once (a good thing) and they split the party into two halves to enter the passage itself. Once in the cruciform chamber you are told about the building methods used in constructing it and about the finds that were made during excavation. You are then 'treated' to a simulation of the sunrise through the roof box on Winter solstice. This, by their own admission, is a poor substitute for the real thing. The passage and chamber are beautifully decorated with spirals and lozenge carvings. One of the three sub-chambers has a highly carved ceiling and a bowl with cup marks.
At the entrance to the passage is probably the finest carved Neolithic stone in existence. The stunning carving continues around the base of the mound (which apparently contains over 250,000 tons of material) on the kerb stones. The fascia to the monument is a wall of quartz studded with round pebbles which produces an stunning effect even on a dull day.
Around the mound there is the remains of The Great Circle, a stone circle of immense proportions. There is also the site of a wood henge and several buildings from later occupations.
Access is via the Interpretation Center (O 027 727 sheet 43).
A compartment in a tomb in which burials were placed. In court tombs and wedge tombs a chamber is a sub-division of the burial gallery. Portal tombs have single chambers and passage tombs can have anything from one to five chambers, although usually passage tombs are considered to have a main chamber with extra subsidary chambers.
A kerb is a ring of stones placed around the perimeter of a burial mound or cairn. It basically serves the purpose of a retaining wall to keep the cairn or earth in place. Kerbs are usually associated with passage tombs, but do occur on court tombs and wedge tombs too.
Sometimes on passage tombs the stones can bear decoration, such as at Newgrange (County Meath).
Stones circles, put quite simply, are rings of standing stones, although not all of them are cicular, many being eliptical. Many have definite layout plans and often stone circles in one region share a similar style, e.g. Cork features many axial stones circles, where a recumbent stones faces an apparent entrance into the circle (see Drombeg (County Cork)).
They are the most well known of megalithic monuments and the ones most likely to capture anyone's imagination. Many theories exist about the original purpose of these enigmatic structures, the most popular (and at times most controversial) one is that they were built as astronomical observatories, many having apparent solar alignments with the sunrise and sunsets at the solstices and equinoxes. Lunar and star alignments have also ben noted.
No matter what the exact purpose it is certain that they played a significant role in the ritual or religious lives of the builders. One thing that nearly everyone has in common is that they are located in the most dramatic of places, usually offering unrivalled views.
Quite often other monuments, such as alignments, cairns, boulder burials or outliers, are to be found in close proximity to stone circles.
Henges are circular monuments that are defined by an outer earthen bank with a ditch around the inside. With the ditch on the inside they are obviously useless as defensive structures and so are considered to be of ritual origins.
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The tour has changed slightly, reducing the amount of time you get to wonder around. When not in the passage I went looking for the cursus (which is still visible) and the satelite tombs to the south.
It is still hard not to be effected by the presence of this monument but the commercialism still stands proud.
The guide today was much more pleasant than on my first trip and the whole experience was much better this time. The new bussing practices and the fact that we were here on a relatively quiet day certainly helped.
Once again it rained while we were here but I did still enjoy this trip more than last time.
Cursus' are strange and rare monuments. They are best described as ritual pathways defined on either side by raised earth banks.
Today I had a "New Agey" tour guide! Very unusual. Very entertaining. However, I'm sad to say that the tour seems to get shorter. This time we were ushered out of the chamber without having chance to look around it after the little talk. Again, like some of the 'improvements' at Knowth, very disappointing.
Since moving to Ireland and starting megalithomania I have resisted the urge to join the masses at Newgrange, but this year I had tons of holiday left and took the plunge. The weather let us all down and low cloud foiled the light show. How sick must the people who'd won an opportunity to be inside the chamber this year have felt?
Because of the lack of a light show, we decided to wonder around outside to see if we could take some decent pictures of the carved stones.
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I can't believe it was five years ago when I was last here. How time flies! My friend Simon, a fellow megalithomaniac (lapsed) was over for a seminar, so I volunteered to take a day off and take him to Newgrange and to see some associated sites.
We nearly didn't get to go, because the strong overnight winds had felled a tree across the bus road from the visitor centre. However, the staff were great and very friendly and the council managed to clear the road quickly, so we could go.
The guide today was very good. Much better than the ones I've experienced in the past. It was also great that there were only four of us (plus guide) inside the tomb. We got to have a bit more time inside and to have a good look around at the carvings and we played 'Spot the Graffiti', too - old graffiti, not new graffiti!!
The only way to reach this place is via the visitors center at O 026 727. Follow the N2 north from Dublin towards Slane. Approximately 2.5 km south of Slane turn right towards Dunore. The visitors center is about 6 km along this road on the left.
The first 'proper' report on Newgrange was by Edward LLhwyd, keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, in 1699. He wrote:
"I also met with one monument in this kingdom, very singular; it stands at a place called New Grange, near Drogheda, and is a mount, or barrow, of very considerable height, encompassed with vast stones, pitched on end, round the bottom of it, and having another, lesser, standing stone on the top."
"The entry into this cave is at bottom, and before it we found a great flat stone, like a large tomb-stone, placed edgeways, having on the outside certain barbarous carvings, like snakes encircled, but without heads."
This is an explanation of (and a bit of a disclaimer for) the coordinates I provide.
Where a GPS figure is given this is the master for all other coordinates. According to my Garmin these are quite accurate.
Where there is no GPS figure the 6 figure grid reference is master for the others. This may not be very accurate as it could have come from the OS maps and could have been read by eye. Consequently, all other cordinates are going to have inaccuracies.
The calculation of Longitude and Latitude uses an algorithm that is not 100% accurate. The long/lat figures are used as a basis for calculating the UTM & ITM coordinates. Consequently, UTM & ITM coordinates are slightly out.
UTM is a global coordinate system - Universal Transverse Mercator - that is at the core of the GPS system.
ITM is the new coordinate system - Irish Transverse Mercator - that is more accurate and more GPS friendly than the Irish Grid Reference system. This will be used on the next generation of Irish OS maps.