July 4, 2009:
The next day we went on a full day tour with Bus Eireann to visit Newgrange as well as other ancient sites in the Boyne Valley area. Our first stop was at Monasterboice. It was pretty cold out and started to rain, so after a quick walk through the cemetery we headed back to the tour bus.
Next we stopped at Mellifont Abbey. The visit there included a guided tour, but it was raining and from where we were standing in the back we couldn’t hear what the guide was saying. At least they provided large umbrellas! At the end of the tour it finally stopped raining and we were able to take some photos.
Then for the highlight of the tour- the tomb of Newgrange. We were very impressed! The tomb dates back to 5000 B.C. which is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. If you are in the U.K. and are trying to decide to see either Stonehenge or Newgrange, the easy pick is Newgrange! The inside of the tomb has survived in near perfect condition for thousands of years and to this date it is still waterproof. Archaeologists don’t know how long it had been abandoned, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that it was rediscovered and from that point until the late 19th century it was left open to neglect and vandalism. Before that time it had been abandoned by the original users and reclaimed by the forests. The area is home to 40 such tombs, most of which have never been excavated but can be spotted in the landscape by their distinct round shapes.
We were not allowed to take any photographs inside the tomb due to the possibility of getting injured inside. You enter through a small doorway and once inside the path is very narrow and it is pitch black inside without the artificial lighting. The pathway is very short, probably only 50 feet but it is at an incline and once you reach the center you will have climbed 2 meters. The height of the floor at the center is even with a window above the original door, which during the winter solstice allows light to illuminate the entire chamber for a few short minutes when the sunrise aligns directly with the window… Quite amazing!! The reasons behind this are unknown and open to many different interpretations, but one thing is clear – they had a very good understanding of astrology.
The inside of the chamber is in a cruciform shape (cross like) with bowl shaped stones used to store cremated ashes. On the walls there are many carvings on the stones (similar to the ones outside) that are also open to interpretations.
When Newgrange was re-discovered the stone facade was just a jumble of rocks near the mound. The facade was rebuilt based upon only one archeologist’s interpretation, so it may not be quite the same as the original. Also, the front entrance shown above was rebuilt concave around the doorway in order to allow better access to tourists, rather than entering over the decorative stone in front of the door.