Bru na Boinne, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth
What many people don’t realise about Ireland is that it has not one but two ancient structures impressive enough to rival Stonehenge and the Pyramids. In fact, the Newgrange and Knowth passage tombs, an hour away from Dublin in the Boyne Valley, are actually older than their competitors and happily don’t suffer from a disappointing proximity to the modern world. Newgrange – a circular mound made from glinting white quartz and encircled by large standing stones – in particular impresses with the complexity in structural design and mystical carvings that seem beyond its Neolithic builders. The delightful intrigue of Newgrange’s purpose, its mystical connection to the sun and the surrounding landscape also add to the charm.
The site is run and maintained by the OPW (Office of Public Works) and is heavily protected by the government in terms of access and number of visitors. This does make visiting this the attraction a bit of a faff but when you consider the pilfering farmers and vandalising Victorians from its less-than-glorious recent past you can forgive a little bit of rigmarole.
Every visit starts at the Bru na Boinne centre where you buy a ticket for a seat on one of the 48-seater minibuses. A wait of some length is almost compulsory but there is a cafe and a fairly sterile but illuminating visitor centre to pass the time. At your designated timeslot there is a bus from a terminus around a ten minute walk from the centre which will take you on the short drive to either Newgrange or Knowth. The guided tomb visits last around an hour are guided and give you plenty of fascinating detail on the background to the tombs and then take you inside for an experience that borders on the profound.
Pre-booking is not possible so in high season it’s best to arrive early with fingers crossed and hope to get on the next available bus. If you do find yourself with a long wait (2 hours or more) you might want to visit Oldbridge House and the Battle of the Boyne Centre or the Hill of Slane which are both in close proximity and worth a visit.
Dowth is the final site in this Neolithic threesome and remains unexcavated. This is the only site that can be independently visited but the chambers are unsurprisingly blocked off to the public leaving this as really just a hill with holes. Furthermore, judging by several signs warning of thieves in this completely isolated area it’s safe to assume that visitors have been targets for robbery in the past.