Newgrange is an ancient temple, a heritage wonder that many people don’t even know exist. I didn’t either, prior to planning my trip to Ireland. Newgrange is visited by 200,000 people each year, just over 500 people per day. That makes it Ireland’s most popular heritage site, but still feel relatively unknown in the way of ancient UNESCO sites. On my trip to Ireland, I went on an incredible Newgrange tour from Dublin that included Newgrange itself, Hill or Tara, and the lovely Newgrange Farm.
This 5,500 year old site served as a passage tomb in it’s day, and is now thought to have served as an ancient temple as well. 5,500 years old makes it older than Stonehenge, and the Pyramids. And yet… none of the crowds even though it’s really cool. Newgrange is the definition of a happy place if you love ancient sites and fascinating history, and dislike massive crowds.
New Grange Tour from Dublin
The Hill of Tara
This was the first stop on our tour. We had the choice to explore on our own, or stick with our guide to learn more about the hill. When you visit, definitely stick with your guide. The Hill of Tara isn’t particularly visually impressive on it’s own, but once you known what you’re looking at everything becomes fascinating.
One interesting-if-you-know element is the Stone of Destiny. Legend says that the Stone of Destiny determined the High King, by screaming when a contender successfully completed a set of challenges.
In the final challenge, contenders drove a chariot towards the stone. Come too close, and they crashed. Swerve too soon, and they were too fearful to lead anyways. Come close enough to reach out and scrape a sword on the stone, and they were a victor.
The result? A loud screech (scream) as blade scraped across stone, declaring the winner.
Legends like this fascinate me. When you first hear the story of a screaming stone, it sounds ridiculous. When you hear the complete story, it all makes sense.
The Stone of Destiny is one of many interesting stories at the top of the Hill of Tara. In the 11th century, Tara was the seat of High Kings. Ring forts are carved in to the earth, and the Mound of Hostages stands nearby concealing ancient corpses. Down the hill is St Patrick’s rebuilt church. St Patrick journeyed to the Hill of Tara and emitted fire from his mouth (no big deal) during an audience with the High King, by the way. This effectively convinced the King of St Patrick’s message, that Christianity was the cool new religion. How to Win an Argument in Ancient Ireland 101, everybody!
Just before visiting Newgrange itself, we stopped at Newgrange Farm for lunch and animal greetings.
You have to try the soup and bread. I know, it sounds incredibly boring. I don’t even like soup usually, but trust me – this is the best soup you’ll ever eat. Bold statement, totally true. Follow up with a slice of cake smothered in fresh Irish cream. If you only learn one thing in Ireland, let it be that fresh Irish cream goes with everything.
Once I finished eating, I went to make friends with baby animals. The kennels of the puppies and kittens are set up so that you can let yourself in, and plunk yourself down on the floor to be adored. Can you think of anything better to do after lunch than cuddle cute orange Irish kittens? Nope, me neither.
Our group spent about 1 hour here before getting back on the bus, and driving up the road to Newgrange.
The Newgrange Monument
The main event, Newgrange.
Newgrange stands in the Boyne Valley, built an estimated 5,500 years ago. The structure includes rocks and stones from all over Ireland, so the people who built it were definitely using the river to move materials.
In 1699, a Scottish man took over the farmland that Newgrange stands on. He needed materials, and sent a crew out to collect stones from the big mound of rocks on his land. Fortunately, one of the first stones they moved unveiled the entrance to the tomb.
A full excavation didn’t take place until the mid 1900’s. Professor O’Kelly led the excavation, paying close attention to the notes of previous visitors from the 1700’s, and to the legends and lore of people in nearby town’s. One story told of sunrise lighting up a triple-spiral stone deep within the tomb. O’Kelly determined that based on Newgrange’s orientation, the legend might refer to the winter solstice. Sure enough, on December 21, 1967, he stood in the tomb as a beam of light made it’s way through the light box above the entrance to the very back of the tomb.
One of the things that really impressed me at Newgrange was the organization. The site is never crowded, because only a small group is permitted on the grounds at any given time. Half of the group goes inside the tomb with a guide, while the others explore outside, and then they switch. You don’t have a long at the site, but because you’re not working against any crowds you can really enjoy the time you do have.
I was excited to discover that we were going inside the tomb.
It’s an incredible thing to stand under a roof that is over 5,000 years old, feeling as though you could be anywhere in time. This is one of those blogger-hold-back-moments – I won’t spoil the magic, you’ll just have to experience it yourself! I will just say that going inside is a truly powerful experience.
Newgrange Visitor Centre
If you weren’t with a tour group, this is where you would wait for your time slot to visit Newgrange. We stopped in afterwards. What’s at the visitor centre:
- enter the lottery to visit Newgrange during the Winter Solstice. Enter. Do not forget. I forgot… totally open to being someone’s plus one, though.
- examples of how people lived in Ancient Ireland.
- details on the systems used to build Newgrange.
- the skull of a man who survived brain surgery thousands of years ago. There’s a hole in his skull. Keep in mind, there was no anesthetic back then… *cringe.*
Now you see… distraction. I blame this fascinating exhibit for my forgetting to enter the lottery. Keep your concentration and enter the lottery before the exhibit sweeps you up!
Day Tour to Newgrange and Hill of Tara
I went to Newgrange with Newgrange Tours by Mary Gibbons. The tour started in Dublin and costs 40 Euro, and includes all your transportation, entry fees, and a tour guide on the bus and at Newgrange. Lunch is not. The day ran smoothly, and never felt rushed. Definitely worth it!
Have you heard of Newgrange before? Is this somewhere that you would like to go?
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Opinions and ideas expressed are my own, as always.