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Winter solstice sun illuminates the mound at Newgrange
Winter solstice sun illuminates the mound at Newgrange.

The Megalithic Passage Tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Fourknocks, Loughcrew and Tara are located in the present day County Meath in Ireland's Ancient East. The Boyne Valley Mounds at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth were built around 3200BC making them older than Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

Built by Neolithic farming communities about 5000 years ago, the passage tombs have clear astronomical alignments such as the Winter Solstice Sunrise at Newgrange and the Equinox Sunrise at Loughcrew.

Newgrange - aerial view Judging from the splendour and magnificence of Newgrange and Knowth it is likely that these temples of the ancestors were places of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance, much as present day cathedrals are places of worship where dignitaries may be laid to rest.

There is a lively debate about whether these wonderful megalithic structures were built primarily as burial tombs, sacred temples or astronomical observatories. While passage tomb is the traditional description for Newgrange and similar structures, chambered cairn or passage mound are the descriptions favoured by those who consider the passage tomb description too narrow.

The large stones surrounding and inside the Passage Tombs are decorated with Megalithic Art such as spirals, concentric circles, triangles, zigzags and images which have been interpreted as the sun, moon and the human face.

Megalithic Art from Fourknocks Passage Tomb

Irish passage tombs tend to occur in clusters traditionally described as a Necropolis or cemetery. The Boyne cluster includes Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and Townleyhall. The other great clusters in County Meath are on the hills around Loughcrew.

The ancient Boyne Valley passage tomb mounds at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth have been designated World Heritage Site status by UNESCO and attract 200,000 visitors per year. The sites and Visitor Centre are managed by the OPW (Office of Public Works).

Entrance Stone at Newgrange Passage Tomb Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. The site is open to the public with controlled access to the passage and chamber. Tours of Newgrange start at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre located near the village of Donore, Co. Meath.

Knowth has two passages and is surrounded by seventeen satellite cairns. The site is open to the public; however there is no public access to the interior passages and chambers. Tours of Knowth also start at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre.

Knowth Kerbstone 5

Dowth Kerbstone 51 Dowth is the only one of the three large Brú na Bóinne Passage Tombs which is not accessible from the Visitor Centre situated on the south bank of the river. Visitors to Dowth must drive directly to the site on the north bank, a couple of miles from the Slane / Drogheda road.

Fourknocks with its short passage leading into a wide pear shaped chamber is in similar style to Tombs in Portugal. Just inside the main chamber to the left of the entrance is one of the few representations of a human face from the Neolithic Period in ancient Ireland.

Entrance to Fourknocks Megalithic Passage Tomb

Megalithic Art - Loughcrew, Co. Meath Loughcrew Cairns form the largest complex of Megalithic structures in Ireland. The Cairns contain symbolic engravings similar in style to Newgrange. Like other Passage Tombs in ancient Ireland, they have clear astrological alignments.

Tara was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland in the first millennium A.D. however Tara is also the site of a Passage Tomb known as the Mound of the Hostages that was built about 2,500 B.C.

Tara - Mound of the Hostages


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