Chambers at Large in Newgrange and Knowth Neolithic Tombs, County Meath, Ireland.

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Thirty years ago I went to Cairo to see the pyramids. Today, I visited tombs older than this Seventh Wonder of the World and they are only 150 kilometres or so from my doorstep.

Newgrange has been designated a UNESCO heritage site, and deservedly so. In my humble opinion the passage tombs of Knowth and Newgrange are far more fascinating than the pyramids of Giza.

The Neolithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange, which is as old, or older than the pyramids in Giza, Egypt.

My only bugbear was the website giving information about visiting these passage tombs is incredibly confusing. I will simplify it: GO TO THE VISITORS’ CENTRE, NOT TO THE TOMBS THEMSELVES, BUY A TICKET AND DO WHAT THE GUIDES TELL YOU TO DO!

An aerial view of the burial mounds at Knowth, a few kilometres from Newgrange.

To my delight, and utmost surprise, due to the Visitors’ Centre being under renovation, tickets to both venues: Newgrange and Knowth, were FREE! (Likely to last a couple more weeks, thus make the most of this offer as there was little sign of it being finished by November 2019, but don't take my word for it - better check the website if you can make any sense of it). Once a ticket has been obtained from the Visitor’s Centre, whether under renovation or not, buses transport visitors to the passage tombs on a regular basis. I thoroughly recommend being early. I arrived at 9.30am, visited both sites, didn’t leave until gone 1pm and I was pushed for time.

There are several burial mounds, but access through the passage ways is not yet possible.

I went to Knowth first, which gave me a fine overview of what the Neolithic Site is all about and the guides were quite honest in that not very much is really known about the people who built these incredible structures.

Computer generated view of the passage tomb, which is much lower than it appears.

There is one large burial mound in which a computer generated video is shown of the passage tomb at Knowth, as to gain entry would mean crawling on one’s hands and knees. What is more interesting are the carved stones surrounding the burial mounds. Carvings of spirals, circles and what can be construed as suns are etched into the rocks, which decorate the outer walls. A reconstruction of a wooden henge, where people may have celebrated the spring (and autumn too) is to one side of the larger mound.

Look carefully to make out what appears to be sun's rays to the left and a circle or spiral to the right.

A stairway allows visitors to climb onto the largest mound and the views of County Meath are beautiful, especially the view of Newgrange, not so far away in the distance.

Ess shaped, snake like carvings are etched into the stones.

Unfortunately time was of the essence and I was shuttled by bus to Newgrange, where entry into the passage tomb is possible. As it is a sacred site, where human remains have been found, photographs were forbidden inside the cruciform interior, but I urge everyone to visit.

Renovated exterior of Newgrange.

The flat round stones within, which may be altars are huge and the mound had to be built above and around them as there is no way they could have been rolled through the entrance way. But what took my breath away was: (i) the actual chamber only holds about 20 people and (ii) the corbelled ceiling. Rock upon rock, neatly placed, with NO MORTAR, creating a beehive effect above the heads of visitors, is mesmerising. The added fact that the stones come from far and wide only adds to the mystery of how generations of people, who worked only in stone, managed to build such a magnificent monument.

Entrance to Newgrange. Note the rectangular window above the door, through which the sun shines lighting up the chamber during the winter solstice.

Newgrange is known for it’s winter solstice when the sun lights up the inner chamber when it rises around the 21stDecember, the shortest day of the year. A reconstruction, using an electric torch was demonstrated, but I’m seriously thinking of entering the lottery held each year, allowing a lucky twenty people to witness the event. Of course, it’s more than just a lottery. The chances of the weather being sunny and the skies clear in December is really remote. The Irish weather is more likely to be wet and cloudy, even snowing, thus the chamber may well remain pitch black, but as a feat of engineering it’s quite remarkable.

View of Newgrange from the great burial mound in Knowth.

I’m very glad I’ve made the effort recently to see some fascinating sights right on my doorstep. Do the same in your locality! Yes, the Valley of the Kings in Luxor was well worth the trip to Egypt, as was seeing Red Square in Moscow and the Great Wall of China, but the inner chamber of the passage tomb in Newgrange outdoes the central chamber of the Great Pyramid in this travellers humble opinion, and even if I don’t win the Newgrange Lottery, I will certainly be returning to the area to learn more about the historical Boyne Valley.

The River Boyne encircles this wonderful UNESCO site. A fascinating and captivating place to visit.

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