Newgrange, Co. Meath, Rep. of Ireland
The Emerald Isle has its fair share of busy cities and pretty coastlines so why not go and visit a big-ass dome in the middle of a field instead? Or atleast, that’s the logic of my two wonderful parents. Well, it’s safe to say Mother (and Father) knows best and here’s why:
This folks, is Newgrange:
Yes, I know, I wanna join the big conga line into the pit of darkness too, but before we join all the fun let’s do a little bit of scouting out of the area, shall we?
You can see a significantly smaller dome in the adjacent field. Just beyond this meanders the River Boyne.
The River Boyne
The highest point of Newgrange’s ridge is around 61m above sea level. This naturally high terrain would have made it a prominent part of the landscape to its dwellers. Earliest evidence of human activity (farming tools) is sometime before 4000BC.
For heaven’s sake, although I studied geology, don’t ask me what the stone was. I think it’s a mixture of slate, quartz, blood sweat and tears. So basically a conglomerate! Oh, I must mention, the exterior as in the picture is not 100% reflective of the true structure when first built, it is instead an interpretation. As with the passing of time I’m sure you can imagine it wasn’t looking it’s best, so this late face lift was somewhat a blessing to Ireland’s tourism piggybank.
Moving on swiftly, the theoretical reasoning for the Neolithic construction was to act as a passage tomb for sunlight. Specifically in alignment with the Winter Solstice (Dec 21st). It is believed that its function was deliberate, thereby pre-dating the astronomically oriented structure of Stonehenge by approx 500 – 600 years.
So cavemen built this mound and passageway combo for some teeny weeny little light beam to shine into their peepers come Christmas Eve? Well, kind of.
Tri-Spiralled entrance stone.
Celtic legend mentions the significance of the ‘three-leaf spiral’ or the tri-spiral, and nowhere is this more exemplified than at Newgrange. Here you can see sets of Tri-spirals which hold as many answers as they do questions, on both exterior and interior rockforms of the lithic structure. The tourguide suggested several potentially plausible theories to explain these carvings on the main stone of the passageway entrance, suggested explanations included religion – each prominent spiral may have represented: The Father, The son and The Holy Spirit respectively, other suggestions inferred that the passageway entrance stone’s use was as some sort of megalithic map.
Which reminds me, I briefly mentioned earlier, in addition to Newgrange, other more modestly sized domed passageways can be found peppering the neighbouring fertile fields of the River Boyne floodplains. It’s believed that they served a similar purpose. You can see that there are several sets of tri-spirals in the image above (perhaps representing the three domes) and what looks like a wave motion (River Boyne) engraved at the bottom of the entrance stone. This may have acted as a guide to the local people of the time?
A more nonchalant reasoning may have pointed to the engravements being solely for decorative purposes. Holding the tomb in such high prestige, perhaps, as you would decorate your home as an expression of pride, so to may the people of this land approx. 3,200BC.
Leading on from the mysteries of the entrance tombstone, the passageway and subsequent chambers of the sleeping mound bared even more secrets than what could be imagined.
Linking back to the significance of the sunlight, it is believed that when the passageway was initially constructed, the beam of sunlight during those Winter solstice’s would have penetrated to the back of the recess and indirectly illuminated a three-leaf spiral engravement on the internal wall. An example of the carving shape below:
If we think back to how creation of the structure would have occurred we may begin to understand the reasoning for such intelligent design.
Prof. Tom Ray the School of Cosmic Physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (inhales deeply after that) confirmed the need for such stringent accuracy of the build to produce the desired illuminated effect. He infers that had the passageway been a few metres longer, sunlight wouldn’t have entered the chamber. If the two roof-box slabs forged a gap just 20cm lower the beam wouldn’t have been effective. They’re putting our engineers to shame, Elon Musk eat your heart out!
What would the chambers have been used to for?
-Rituals: With the average age of death at the time being just 26 years old for females and 29 years old for males. Heck, I would’ve taken a bit of wacky backy and sang kumbaya round the nearest tree too! In all seriousness, the relationship between sunlight and spiritualism has stood the test of time. You can see why, sunlight is important for life, it’s important for growth. Therefore the power and prestige of the sun must’ve been paramount.
In addition to potential sun worship, especially during times of natural light shortages, evidence points towards the ritualistic custom of ‘Trepanation’ being praised within Newgrange – the removal of a disc of bone from the skull of a living person to allow ‘evil spirits’ to leave the body. In some findings, as reconstructed in the picture, it was determined that the ‘patient’ survived due to the fact that the bone actually began to grow back. I’ll never complain of a headache again!
Other theories suggest that Newgrange was used as a place to practice religion. In some ways acting as our religious buildings of today would.
Shrouded in mystery and unanswered questions makes this unforgettable site a gem of the Emerald Isle in my eyes.
As for what I saw inside the passageway, well, maybe I’ll keep that a secret. Go visit!
**Check out extra pictures on Instagram