Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ireland: Knowth and Newgrange passage tombs

Knowth and Newgrange rival Stonehenge in their mythical aura of otherworldliness. It is partly their age, which at over 5000 years to hard to grasp for us history deprived Americans but it is also the stability and intricacy of their construction. Their stone carvings, which demonstrate a profoundly advanced knowledge of the lunar cycles, are humbling considering that the average man on the street probably still believes the moon is made of cheese. You can’t help but stand before these structures and not feel awed by the accomplishments of man before the cell phone, before the working of iron, and before the advent of Microsoft Project.

These tombs are an easy bus ride north from Dublin and should be on everyone’s must do list. The visitor’s center at Bru na boinne is world class and comes with a nice cafeteria for the inevitable hunger attack. Since it was positively freezing the day I went, access to warmth and tea was a lifesaver.


Kerbed stone. I accentuated the contrast and exposure to bring out the carvings.

Knowth consists of a large mound surrounded by 18 smaller mounds. The large mound’s base is surrounded by large carved kerbed stones while their top is verdant grass that hangs down the mushroom shaped mound like thatch in a Tolkien fantasy. The top of the mound has hosted a church, a village, and even a small fortification, as it lay buried through the ages. It was just a high point on an otherwise flat plane. There are two passages into the tomb, one from either end.

My father looking at a Kerbed stone

Newgrange is architecturally more impressive than Knowth, but a lot that is due to a modern reconstruction effort. You cannot wander at your leisure but must be led into the center of the mound by a guide. Photography is prohibited. The mound itself covers an entire acre and the front contains a dramatic white quartz fa├žade that must have been visible for several miles. On the winter solstice, the sun enters the large rock chamber illuminating the megalithic stone and carvings for just 17 minutes. Standing in that chamber is almost frightening. The weight of stone surrounding you is oppressive and yet it has stood since its construction in 3200 BC. I would like to transport a few of their quality engineers to the future. It may have taken at least 300 people over 20 years to complete the mound. The entrance stone with its circular carvings is also impressive. You don’t pick up a stone that size and toss it in your wagon (if they even had wagons during that era).

Newgrange from the side

If you are on a trip to Dublin, be sure to add Knowth and Newgrange to your list. Its profound antiquity will hammer home the insignificance of the human life while elevating the meaning of humanity.

The front of Newgrange

Other posts from my trip to Ireland:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Human life is not insignificant. I think Newgrange only emphasizes this