Newgrange is the most famous tomb in the Bru na Boinne in Ireland. The Bru na Boinne are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been since 1993. It is considered one of the most important megalithic sites in all of Europe, and is in excellent condition. It is arguably the definitive destination in Ireland, and is often compared to Stonehenge in Britain.
The site of the Bru na Boinne contains more than forty passage tombs, but of these Newgrange is by far the most important and most visited. The tomb dates back go the 4th millennium BCE, predating the Great Pyramids by centuries, and demonstrating an incredible grasp of astronomy.
Newgrange is essentially an enormous burial mound, covering more than an acre, and reaches more than 40 feet (12m) high. There is a marble façade leading into the tomb, and combined with the rich and verdant green of Ireland’s grass, it creates one of the most photogenic megalithic sites in the world.
Entering the burial mound of Newgrange, one goes down a tunnel that pushes more than 60 feet (18m) into the heart of the tomb. The tunnel terminates in a cross-shaped burial chamber, with an arched roof that reaches 20 feet (6m). This roof has kept out the water, and remained standing, for more than 5000 years, demonstrating the ingenuity and skill of its original architects.
One of the most notable features of Newgrange is astronomical in nature. On the day of the winter solstice, the sun lines up perfectly with a special roofbox above the entrance to the tunnel, and shines the full 60 feet (18m) to light up the floor of the burial chamber. It is a profound thing to witness, and shows a sophisticated understanding of astronomy. The sun shines in the chamber for just around 17 minutes, beginning only a few minutes after dawn. Calculations show that at the time Newgrange was built, the time the sun struck the chamber floor would have been almost exactly at dawn.
Visiting Newgrange on the winter solstice adds quite a bit to the experience, and as such, it is understandably a very popular event. In order to deal with the sheer volume of people trying to get access on the winter solstice, authorities instituted a lottery. For those who don’t win the lottery, or for those who aren’t able to make it on the solstice, a large light was installed to replicate the position of the sun on the winter solstice, which is turned on at the end of every tour of Newgrange to show what one would see on the solstice itself.
The Bru na Boinne are named after the goddess Boann, and they are all, Newgrange included, associated with the faerie mounds that housed the Tuatha De Danann in Ireland’s mythic past. In some myth cycles, it is also said that Cuchulainn, the great hero, was conceived in Newgrange.