Thursday, 24 March 2011

Newgrange Passage Tomb, Ireland

From the outside, a giant curved mound of grass-topped earth encased in a modernist "Stalinist brutalist" exterior, as Neil Oliver recently put it on his telly programme. On the inside, claustraphobic and yet apparently similarly sharply-designed, and intact, apart from the stone-carved graffiti by 18th and 19th century tourists. Strangely, it's far from cosy, organic or earthy though. The look and feel is geometric - like the pyramids (Newgrange is only 500 years older). Built by hand, without concrete, by balancing carefully selected rocks to create a passage that was specifically angled to only receive sunlight over winter solstice, a corbelled roof, and three small recesses around a circular centre, it was pretty unexpected to feel like I was in a spaceship pod as much as a sacred space. Maybe a little too much reading about ancient astronauts and looking at the neolithic spiral art, but I like the idea that we go there to look back and connect, but it was built as much looking forward as for the ancestors.

(The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Newgrange, Knowth & Dowth contain a third of Europe's neolithic art, including lunar maps at Knowth. Save Newgrange are campaigning against the proposed Slane bypass road, which will run 500 metres from Newgrange.)


  1. Loughcrew in County Meath is a spectacular collection of megalithic burial mounds and passage graves with some equally amazing carvings. Guess it's off the beaten track so doesn't attract the attention of the bigger tombs. Found a few nice pics of Loughcrew here...

    Also, there is the Dowth complex, which is associated with both Knowth and Newgrange, but hasn't been excavated in recent times.
    Apparently, Neolithic culture traveled West from Ireland to the rest of Britain, not the other way around as was heralded for many years. Many of the oldest tombs are in the West of Ireland, West Wales The Orkney's and Western Scotland. I guess the sea played a big part in the movement of ideas back then 'the motorways of the Neolithic' is a phrase I come across time and again in books on prehistory.

  2. "The motorways of the Neolithic" - what a fantastic phrase