Ireland – Part 3 – Neolitic Passage Graves

Yesterday we went to Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange, three neolithic passage grave sites. Sadly none of my archeology classes covered this part of the world, so I didn’t have much background knowledge, but the up side was that I got to go play tourist. The first one we went to was Dowth. No one is allowed in the passage to this one anymore, though the FB remembers going as a kid. The site itself is no longer really open to the public, though you can get to it, by tromping through a sheep field.

We tromped through the sheep field.

The passage graves sound exactly like what they are, long passageways built into a mound with human remains in there. That is a very simple explanation because realistically 1) The remains may have been ceremonial. 2) The mounds were actually built over the top of the passages and they are completely man-made.

Anyway, Dowth is closed, and it’s rather sad looking because the british stuck some dynamite into it and blew up most of the mound. However, there are beautiful views from the top.

Next is Knowth, also a passage grave, later an iron age settlement and then early Christian village. You can only go a little ways into Knowth, not all the way down the passage, but they have a lot of very beautifully decorated kerbstones.


Last we went to Newgrange, the most famous. Newgrange is the one that has the really beautifully decorated stone in front, with the three interconnected spirals (google trispiral Newgrange if you care). Newgrange is famous because the passage faces south, and on the winter equinox sunlight shines through the passage and illuminates the room at the back. It is the only time there is ever light there.

The ceilings were built by corbeling, basically laying stones on top of one another in a decreasing circle until one stone caps the top. There was no mortar, and the whole thing has stood for 5000 years. Newgrange is 500 year older than the oldest pyramid.



  1. That’s fascinating! In my daydreams and/or plannng I’ve thought of building a structure in a similar way. I enjoy building structures with rocks. Strange as that sounds.

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