On this particular day in January, we were dropping my parents off at Dublin airport at 7:30 .... After having said our goodbye, we knew it was to early in the day to head into Dublin.
So with pre-booked tickets in our hands, we headed northwards towards the world heritage site of Bru na Boinne. Within a bend of the river Boyne are the famous prehistoric passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.
These megalithic sites which were excavated during the 1960s and 70s were designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1993.
Where i would have visited Newgrange back in the 70s as a youngster, in those days you could just access the site. Nowadays, you start your tour at the Bru na Boinne visitor centre which is located on the banks of the Boyne.
We were welcomed by friendly OPW staff who checked our pre-booked tickets and handed us an armband we were supposed to use when entering the shuttle bus. The visitor centre is a short drive away from the monuments.
After a quick chat, we started our tour through the fully interactive visitor experience where we were able to explore the Neolithic culture, landscape and monuments.
The first part of the tour focused on the monuments during the last century, mainly the excavations and its discoveries.
Walking through ancient forest where wild animals roamed, we reached a hall where a film showcased the newest discoveries. With the exceptional dry weather experienced during the summer of 2018, details of amazing archaeological monuments became visible for the first time as cropmarks in the fields of the river Boyne floodplain.
For example, three large circular ceremonial enclosures with diameters ranging between 130 and 200m became visible.
The arrangement of the three massive henge enclosures suggests that the construction and use of all three may have been conceived as a single design.
Making our way through the visitor experience, we discovered life during the Neolithic period and discovered the importance of the winter and summer solstice.
We were educated on the stones used to built these megastructures, especially leaving us in awe on the distance these stones were transported over. Different types of stone were used to built these structures, some of these were collected as far as the Wicklow mountains and Mourne mountains.
Where nowadays, we have roads to make transportation easy, during Neolithic times, Ireland was covered by dense forest with wild animals roaming around. So probably not a trip for the faint hearted.
At the end of the tour, you get to walk through a mock-up of the Newgrange passage. Leaving the visitor centre behind us, we crossed the Boyne river which on this particular day was flowing rapidly underneath us. While crossing the river, it isn't difficult to imagine why these Neolithic people would have chosen this location. The Boyne river brought them fish, it would have flooded the land making it into fertile farmland and would have provided them with drinking water.
Walking towards the bus which would bring us to Newgrange, we admired the fertile fields which are marked with many Neolithic structures.
Five minutes later , we pulled up at Newgrange where a guide awaited us. At the passage entrance into Newgrange, we learned about the different stones. What surprised us most is that the quartz was actually the original stones used at the front. Where originally , it was thought these structures were just tombs, nowadays these structures are seen as ceremonial buildings where gatherings would have taken place, a bit like our cathedrals.
What is also good to know is that the three megastructures contain the largest collection of megalithic art in Western Europe.
In fact, Knowth contains more than a third of the total number of examples of megalithic art with over 200 decorated stones found.
Another interesting aspect is that the passage into the tombs is protected by three very large rocks, one beautiful decorated with Neolithic designs. The purpose of these stones was to stop anybody from entering the passage. Nowadays it is a bit easier to enter as a staircase has been installed across the stones. On this particular day, the passage was closed.
During Covid, it was decided to close-up the passage and mount multiple cameras into it. The reason for this is that this was the first time ever the opportunity existed to learn more about the passage tombs, especially the way the sun (winter solstice) shines through the opening above the passage entrance and lights up the chamber. Normally, a lottery takes place where 20 spaces are up for grabs to enter the passage tomb the week around winter solstice.
After an educational tour, we said our goodbyes and drove back towards Dublin with the plan to return to Knowth once it opens to the public.