Solstice Magic: Ireland’s Newgrange

Step back in time to an ancient dawn at Newgrange, the dome-shaped stone tomb constructed on the rich lands of Ireland’s Boyne Valley more than 5,000 years ago—before Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Newgrange is part of a complex of monuments built along a bend of the River Boyne known collectively as Brú na Bóinne. Knowth and Dowth are also well known, but there are as many as 35 smaller mounds in the region.

 

Your journey truly begins once you step inside, and a 62-foot-long (19 m) inner passage leads you into a chamber in the shape of a cross.

But time your visit to December’s winter solstice, and a single, golden ray of light will illuminate your sense of awe.

At dawn on several days around the solstice, December 21 or 22, a narrow beam of sunlight penetrates the opening just above the entrance. It reaches the floor, gradually crawling toward the rear of the chamber.

As the sun rises, the beam expands, filling the tomb with the first light of the year’s shortest days. The Neolithic light show, encapsulating the natural cycle of life and rebirth, lasts for 17 minutes.

 “Archaeologists have classified Newgrange as a passage tomb,” writes local expert Michakle Fox, “but it is more than that. ‘Ancient temple’ is a more fitting label: a place of astronomical, spiritual, and ceremonial importance.”

Ancient carvings can be seen on many of the massive, kidney-shaped mound’s curbstones, including the triple-spiral design synonymous with Newgrange.

 

Planning: Access to Newgrange can only be arranged by guided tour.

 

Published: National Geographic, 16 December 2015