accidentally in 1699, Newgrange was much restored between 1962 and 1975
The most famous of all Irish prehistoric monuments, Newgrange is one of the finest European
passage-tombs. Built atop a small hillock, this site was discovered accidentally by the
removal of material for road-metalling in 1699. The great tombs of
Knowth and Dowth are nearby, and in the same 7.8sq km (3sq mi)
area of the Boyne valley are grouped more than 30 prehistoric monuments : standing stones,
barrows, and enclosures.
Newgrange was originally built about 3100 BC and today is in a much restored form. It
consists of a vast stone and turf mound about 85m (280ft) in diameter and 13,5m (44ft) high,
containing a passage leading to a burial chamber. Outside the base, 12 out of the original
estimated 38 large boulders up to 2.4m (8ft) high form a ring of about 104m (340ft) in diameter.
The stone circle was built about 1000 years later than the original structure, dating
probably from the Beaker period. This ring of stones is almost unique in Great Britain and
Ireland, with Clava and maybe
Loanhead of Daviot being the other
The base of the mound is retained by no less than 97 large stones, lying horizontally, many
of which bear beautifully carved designs of spirals, lozenges, zigzags, and other symbols. The
most famous of these is the stone marking the entrance, with carvings of a triple spiral, double
spirals, concentric semi-circles, and lozenges similar to those found in Brittany (France), at Gavrinis.
Above the entrance passage is a 'roof-box', which precisely aligns with the rising sun at
the winter solstice of 21 December, so that the rays touch the ground at the very centre of
the tomb for about 20 minutes. Many of the upright stones along the walls of the 19m (62ft)
passage, which follows the rise of the hill, are richly decorated.
The cruciform chamber inside the mound measures 6.5 x 6.2m (21ft 6in x 17ft), has three
recesses, and is topped by a magnificent corbelled roof reaching to a height of 6m (20ft)
above the floor. In the recesses are three massive stone basins which presumably had some ritual
use. Excavations in the central chamber produced the remains of two burials and
at least three cremated bodies as well as seven marbles, four pendants, two beads, a flint
flake, a bone chisel, and fragments of several bone pins and points.
There has been controversy over the reconstruction of the white quartz wall on top of the
South-East sector of the kerb, which was based on the position of the white quartz layers
found during excavations between 1962 and 1975. Michael O'Kelly, who worked for 13 years on
the mound, searched diligently but in vain for traces of a second burial chamber, though it
may be the unexcavated half of the mound.
As at Knowth, some satellite tombs have been found outside the
edge of the mound: one of which lies to the east and another to the west of the entrance. Cement
posts now mark what was once a double circle of wooden pillars, enclosing Beaker
Newgrange gets its modern name from the fact that by 1142, the site had become part of
Mellifont Abbey farm. These farms were known as granges, and by 14th century the site was
known only as the 'New Grange'. In early Irish mythology, Newgrange was not only the
alleged burial place of the prehistoric kings of Tara, but also the
home of a race of Irish supernatural beings, known as 'Tuatha de Danann' : the people
of the goddess Danu. Newgrange was also taken to be the house of the patriarchal god Dagda.