It's older than the pyramids of Egypt and England's Stonehenge. It's an astronomical wonder as well. Yet, the passage grave at Newgrange in Ireland's County Meath is often ignored by package tours of the Emerald Isle. That's a pity, because the megalithic tomb provides a fascinating primer on the way Ireland's people lived (and died) over 5,000 years ago in the beautiful Boyne Valley.
Like Stonehenge, Newgrange is a favorite haunt of spiritualists, animists and Druid cultists, who are wont to visit on feasts like Halloween or the winter solstice. Easily reached by a 30-minute drive on the N1 road going North from Dublin, Newgrange is part of a heritage trail called Bru na Boinne.
This route also includes the sites of Knowth (which has two burial chambers and striking images of Celtic art), the Hill of Tara (ancient home of Ireland's high kings), Kells (where the famous illuminated manuscripts of the Gospels were written), the Hill of Slane (where St. Patrick lit the Pascal fire in defiance of a pagan ruler's edict), and Slane Castle (an estate dating from 1701 that's famous as a venue for concerts by bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones.
Newgrange itself, just a five-minute drive from where N1 enters the ancient city of Drogheda, boasts an informative visitor's center that illustrates how the 1-acre mound was built with materials from the four corners of the island. The center also provides an interesting historical narrative from the time of the high kings through the English conquests.
Entering the chamber is a somber experience that instills an appreciation for the small physical stature of the workers who built these huge tombs. Tour participants also get to experience the darkness of the chamber and a re-creation of the winter solstice phenomenon.
Nearby is the walled city of Drogheda, which was besieged and sacked by Cromwell's army in 1649. Drogheda's attractions include St. Peter's Church, featuring - for all who dare to look - the preserved head of drawn and quartered Irish martyr St. Oliver Plunkett. Those interested in history, Irish or otherwise, are certain to find a "mound" of treasure in Newgrange and the Boyne Valley region. For further local information, contact the County Meath Website: www.meath.ie/tourism.
Mike Quane is a travel writer with twenty-five years experience. His work has appeared in The New York Daily News, Newsday, Grit, Endless Vacation, Parents Magazine, The Portland Press Herald, Telegraph Publications, Hong Kong Traveling Magazine, the inflight magazines of Singapore and Korean airlines plus many other places. He wrote a weekly column at This Week Publications for fifteen years and a monthly column at LongIsland.com for over a decade.