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Boyne Valley in Ireland Part 3 – Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth

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The megalithic complex of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth contains some of Ireland’s largest and most magnificent burial mounds. Access is via the visitor centre only, and the only way to view Newgrange and Knowth is by taking an organised tour. The guide will relate the fascinating story of Newgrange’s construction, explaining how this huge mound covers an area of 1 acre and was built around 3200 BC; making it older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. The perimeter is lined with 400 giant kerbstones weighing anywhere from 1 to 12 tonnes. All of these stones are intricately carved with what is now known as Boyne Valley art, which  is unique to the region. The entrance to the chamber is blocked by a giant kerbstone, so that people would have to climb over to enter the mound. However, today the entrance has been modified with steps for easier access, and to preserve the stone itself.

Newgrange megalithic passage cairn entry stone.
Newgrange megalithic passage cairn entry stone.

Winter solstice sunrise

Model of the Newgrange passage cairn.
Model of the Newgrange passage cairn.

The tour then leads small groups inside the chamber. Not only was this burial mound an incredible feat of engineering, but also an incredible feat of ingenuity.  The entrance is precisely aligned with the rising of the sun at the winter solstice – the sun sets at the entrance to the mound at Dowth – but its designers were also clever enough to realise it would have to be local dawn, and thus calculate where the sun would rise and how high.

In the case of the Boyne Valley the sun would rise over the distant hills, so a roof box, as you can see in the photo above, was fitted above the entrance for the light to shine through. The main entrance below takes you through a narrow passageway that leads uphill to an elevation of two metres.

Newgrange megalithic passage cairn

The passageway is 19 metres long. Thus the floor of the inner chamber is exactly level with the roof box. On the morning of the solstice, sunlight shines through the roof box, travels along the overhead passage and illuminates the inner chamber. This is illustrated for the tour using a halogen light at the entrance.

The guide then points to the corbelled roof. No cement or binding agents were used to fix the stones in place, and they had all been stacked like a house of cards. The capstone is the lightest at two tons. Above that lie four metres of loose rock, then earth and grass. All this was to ensure the watertight integrity of the chamber, and to make sure that moisture will not loosen the rocks. It was obvious that these so-called primitive people really knew what they were doing.

Inside the chamber are three recesses. In all probability the bodies were cremated outside and then the ashes placed inside the chamber. What this was for, no one really knows. There are many theories, but there is simply no way to know for sure as these people never left any written history. In truth, the race who built these tombs will always remain a mystery.

The legend of the Dagda

One thing the tour guide will not tell you though, is the legend associated with Newgrange. The story of Newgrange says that it was once the home of the Dagda, the chief God of the Tuatha dé Danann. The Dagda took as his home, the greatest of all the fairy mounds, Newgrange. There in his fairy palace he kept his magic harp, which would fly into his arms upon command. Visitors could feast from the cauldron with a never-ending supply of food, which could be washed down with the ale that would render the drinker immune to all sickness. The harp is also now a national symbol of Ireland.


The next tour will take you to Knowth, which is actually more impressive as its large burial cairn is surrounded by 18 smaller mounds. The main tomb is in fact larger than the Newgrange mound, but inaccessible due to years of excavations.

Knowth megalithic passage cairn
Knowth megalithic passage cairn

There are two passageways aligned with the rising and setting of the sun at the equinoxes. One of the main differences here was that Knowth was used as a settlement for centuries after its usage as a burial mound. There is evidence of a settlement on top of the main mound right up until the arrival of the Normans. It’s unknown as to whether these people were actually aware of what they living on.


Dowth isn’t open to the public, but you can drive yourself there or take the bus and wander around. You just cannot go inside. Part of it has collapsed due to an excavation in the late 1800s. Dowth means ‘darkness’ and its chamber is aligned with the setting of the sun at the winter solstice and hence the beginning of the longest night of the year.

Half hour from Dublin

The Boyne Valley is just a half-hour drive from Ireland’s modern capital, Dublin, but is a world away from the hustle and bustle of busy city life. It’s an easy day trip if you are staying there, but to really experience the magic of Ireland’s ancient history it’s best to stay somewhere nearby. There is a lot more to explore here.

Getting to Ireland

Dublin is the main airport for the Rep of Ireland, or else Belfast in Northern Ireland. If you are coming from within Europe then the following airlines are worth looking at.

Wizz Air: Personally I have always found them to be the best and offer the lowest fares.



Aer Lingus

Skyscanner: A great place to search and compare flights

Ebookers: Ebookers have been around for longer than most and have always offered a great choice of flights.

Getting around


The best way to get around Ireland is by car. Either take your own car or you can rent one easily from Dublin or any other major city. Here are three great places to look:

Discover Cars

Skyscanner Car Hire

Ebookers car hire


The national bus service connects most major cities, towns and villages and is a good way to get around, especially if you want to meet some locals

Bus Eireann

If you want a fun way to travel with other like-minded travellers then try the Paddywagon


The national train service also serves a lot of the larger towns and cities. Great for getting from one side of the country to the other.

Iarnrod Eireann


Holidu: This is a great website to search for a variety of places to stay.

Hostelworld: If you are looking for budget accommodation then Hostelworld is a great place to search for a variety of backpacker hostels, B&Bs and hotels.

My Ireland Book

Read the story of my first ever trip around Ireland in my book, Hot Footing Around the Emerald Isle.

With just a backpack as a home, a guidebook in one hand, a bizarre travelogue in the other and very little money in my bank account, I leave my home and set off to this little country that has always been my neighbour, yet overlooked by myself for many years as I pursued dreams to travel to far and exotic countries. However, I was soon to learn that one of the most beautiful places in the world was right on my doorstep.

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This website and its articles contain links and adverts. The adverts and some links, but not all, are affiliate links. This means that if you click and buy something I will receive a small percentage of money, but at no extra cost to you. The price remains the same if you buy.

“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

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