Irish: Brú na Bóinne

Neolithic chambered tomb.

Using radio carbon dating, Newgrange is usually believed to have been built around 3200 BCE, making it older than Stonehenge by some 500 years, and the Great Pyramids by 300. It is believed to be a burial mound, though for who it is unknown.

The most curious fact about Newgrange is its alignment with the winter solstice; above the entrance is a shaft which allows the newly-risen sun to shine down into the chamber, and specifically into a basin on the ground. Presumably the basin would be filled with water, which would reflect the sunlight throughout the chamber. It is possible that this would indicate that Newgrange is not only a burial mound, but a time-keeping device. This theory is also bolstered by the existence of standing stones which serve to block out all sunlight from the entrance of the chamber on certain days of the year, particularly the other equinoxes and solstice.

The first modern work done on Newgrange can be attributed to Edward Lhuyd, the great Welsh antiquarian, who visited the mound in 1699. He is the first to survey the burial passage, and also observed the standing stones surrounding the mound, including one which had originally rested on the flat top of Newgrange.

In Irish myth, Newgrange is the home of Óengus mac ind-Og, the Irish equivalent of Mabon ap Modron. In "De Gabáil in t-Sída", a foretale of "Tochmarc Étaine", it is said that Óengus won Newgrange in a bet with his father the Dagda, but that Óengus had to relent and allow his father to live there some part of the year. Could this be a seasonal myth, perhaps with knowledge of the light shaft?

The Metrical Dindshenachas says Newgrange is home to Óengus, but that it is also home to Brigit (Gwynn, 11), and the tomb of a daughter of Pharaoh.

"The Taking of The Brúgh" The Celtic Heroic Age. ed. by John T. Koch, John Carey. David Brown Book Company, 2003. The Metrical Dindshenchas vol. II. ed. by E. Gwynn.

Stout, Geraldine. Newgrange and the Bend of the Boyne. Dublin: Cork University Press, 2002.

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Mary Jones © 2003