Brú na Bóinne
Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne comprises the largest collection of remains from the Neolithic era in Europe.
The site was an important ritual centre until the Late Middle Ages. The dozens of megalithic monuments had funerary and ritual use. It is especially valued for its passage graves adorned with petroglyphs, with Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth as the best examples.
Community Perspective: The main site of Newgrange is often included in day tours from Dublin, and can become busy. Knowth is a good (some say: even better) alternative, while at Dowth the interior of the graves cannot be visited but it provides a look at an unreconstructed tomb. The other graves can only be entered with a guide.
Map of Brú na BóinneLoad map
We visited Brú na Bóinne in June 2022 but didn’t post a review as there are plenty already. However, I now note that no one has yet described the Mound at Dowth and that a couple of the references made about it in earlier reviews are not quite correct so, here goes -
a. Dowth is the 3rd large mound (of similar size to the others) within the Brú na Bóinne complex after the more famous Newgrange and Knowth. Unlike them it has never been “reconstructed” and doesn’t form a part of the tours on offer at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. It can however be visited externally independently without paying or booking. I have provided an aerial photo taken from a Visitor Centre video because it gives a better idea than any of my own close ups of what the mound looks like as a whole. That might be regarded as somewhat “underwhelming”!! Nevertheless, as I try to identify below, it has its interests and merits - although no one could argue that you should visit it in preference to the other 2 mounds if you had never seen, or could get to, them. If you couldn’t get a tour ticket however, you might do so in order to get that “WHS tick” by entering the inscribed area somewhere!.
b. Assuming that you have had your “fill” of Knowth and Newgrange, a further reason to go to Dowth is as an “antidote” to the previous experience! A chance to see an unreconstructed site which is still much as people would once have seen the other mounds, and an escape after the rather claustrophobic, rushed and over-marshalled tours which, unfortunately, have to be joined in order to see the main tombs.
c. It is awkward to get to. Assuming you will come from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre (a ticket solely for its exhibition costs 5 euro and doesn’t need to be booked - it is included in the tours) then, although Dowth is not much above 1km across the river Boyne, it is not directly accessible (“Visitors wishing to see Dowth can access the exterior of the monument directly via the N51. There is no access via the Visitor Centre”) or visited by any of the tours. Instead it is a c11km circular drive, best going East passing the Battle of the Boyne (1723) Visitor Centre and crossing the river via the “Obelisk Bridge” past the ruins of the Battle Memorial from 1736 "blown up in 1923, allegedly by republicans using dynamite from an Irish Army camp"!
d. The Mound is situated a 100m or so off the minor road you will have arrived on at 53.703823, -6.450383. There is limited roadside parking but you are likely to be alone, or one of very few people there, even if the visitor centre is “heaving”! As the photo indicates, the mound itself is somewhat misshapen. This is because of quarrying and over-zealous 19th C excavations! There are 2 tomb chambers (“South” and “North”) whose entrances are both blocked by locked gates and another entrance (also blocked) to an early Christian “souterrain” which links to the “North” prehistoric tomb. Visitors enter along the wall at the bottom right in the review photo.
e. Is there ever likely to be improved access to the Dowth site? The 2017 Brú na Bóinne Management Plan contains objectives (4.4/4.5) to “Promote” the OUV of the entire site by - “Improv(ing) access by way of virtual tours of the monuments not open to the public, e.g. Knowth and Dowth” and “Work(ing) …..to improve arrangements for access to Dowth (South) passage tomb”. This latter has been available in the past as a part of the Solstice events (its passage is aligned in the same direction as Newgrange which I think explains why the trees on the right of the mound in the review photo have been cut low, so as not to block the sun's rays) which shows that, unlike the Knowth tomb, it is physically capable of “receiving” visitors in appropriately controlled circumstances. I have also read that, until 2003, one could ask at the visitor centre for the key to it. At the time of our visit, there was no evidence of any progress on the Dowth-related objectives. If you are frustrated by its interior inaccessibility, you might find it of interest to visit (we didn't) another burial mound with carvings at nearby "Fourknocks" (Not WHS) - it operates a "free entry via a collected key with deposit" scheme. One might have thought that at least something akin to the booking system operated for entry to Maes Howe on the Orkneys could be arranged for Dowth? Perhaps there are "Health and Safety" concerns about the stability of the tomb? In any case - surely they could at least have tidied up the site and improved the signage? In 2022 there were just a couple of very faded notice boards at the entrance and no other information. Regarding Knowth's objectives - I should report that, in March 2022 a new "Visitor Hub" opened there "offering a large digital exhibition exploring the rock art of Knowth and accompanied by engaging interactives and audio visuals" (a nice addition indeed).
f. The area of the Mound was acquired by the Irish State in 1997, so is not “privately owned”. Interestingly, just down the road at Dowth Hall (coincidentally also acquired by the state as recently as Aug 2023!) , is another (recently found) passage tomb known as “Dowth Hall Passage Tomb”! We didn’t visit, but it emphasises the fact that Bru na Boinne isn’t just “2 famous mounds plus a 3rd which most people don’t bother to see….” but an entire prehistoric “Cultural Landscape” consisting of many different remains – more tombs, henges, a “Cursus” etc, albeit that it isn’t recognized by UNESCO as such, presumably because its inscription pre-dated acceptance of the concept for WHS purposes.
g. After you have looked into Dowth’s gated tomb entrances and climbed to the top there is still value to be gained by wandering around the bottom. The few partly uncovered stones you will see at the base are those very same “Kerb stones” which you will have seen at Knowth beautifully re-arranged under an incongruous concrete “sill” to protect the carvings - a “feature” which has also been criticized - “a cantilever shelf was installed above the kerbstones around the full circumference of the mound. The aim of this intervention was to showcase the megalithic art whilst reducing the potential for weathering. Therefore, the mound had adopted an unfortunate mushroom-like appearance”. Those stones are of course the glory of Knowth (“Knowth has more than a quarter of the known megalithic art from all other areas of Europe, including Ireland.”). and are why many (including myself) find it more interesting than Newgrange. Apparently, carvings are visible on some of the Dowth kerb stones too. One, called “The Stone of the Seven Suns”, is the most famous but, unfortunately we were not aware of this and missed it! It is shown in this linked article (Follow named link) which should provide as much information on Dowth Tumulus as you are likely to want!!
h. A particular “interest” in visiting Dowth is to get an idea of what Newgrange and Knowth would once have looked like before all those “reconstructions” took place! See these pictures of Newgrange in the 18th C . Not so different in 1790 from the review photo of Dowth now? Compare them with the contemporary reality, about which has been said that it “inflict(ed) a 1960s standard of office-block design upon a structure that had stood for five thousand years”, that it had “an unfortunate municipal look to it” and was “a fake facade of white quartz that looks like a 1960s bus station”! Finally, that “20th century Irish nationalism has seen Newgrange stripped of its patina of age and irreversibly altered in order to accommodate visitor access.” (R. English, “Irish Freedom: the History of Nationalism in Ireland”)
i. So, in summary - go to
- Knowth to see the amazing externally “presented” Megalithic Art.
- Newgrange for its tomb interior, “light box” experience and highly controversial reconstruction
- Dowth for a peaceful visit to a mound free of “conjectural reconstructions”.
j. Finally (!) - here are some links to academic articles I came across whilst researching aspects of Brú na Bóinne. You might be interested in their "facts" and "opinions"!
"Brú na Bóinne - A Sustainability Study" (2007) Describes the lead up to (and conflicts regarding) the choice of location for the Visitor Centre and the "controlled visit" regime which was established.
"Disjunctives in Nationalist Rhetoric at Ireland's Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre" (2006). Considers the way in which Bru na Boinne (specifically "Newgrange") has been interpreted and marketed to reflect a subjective "self view" of Ireland - in particular the "Celticism" of a Neolithic landscape. An approach which has also possibly been involved in the rebranding of the site from the original prosaic (albeit "factual") “Archaeological ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne” at inscription in 1993 to the more magical and certainly more marketable - “Brú na Bóinne” - the Palace of the water goddess Boann (see "The Mythology of Newgrange")
"Constructing Irishness: Nationalism, Archaeology and the Historic Built Environment in an Independent State" (2014) covers a similar domain to that of the previous paper but is more wide ranging in the sites and periods it covers. Contains interesting facts about the excavations at Brú na Bóinne - and also about Céide Fields, recently "dropped" from Ireland's T List.
Visited this site in September 2019. We arrived on Monday and there were not many people. Visitor center is still under refurbishment (the guide told that probably only 2-3 weeks are left to complete the works). We received free tickets to Knowth and Newgrange and visited both.
Knowth comprises one large mound and 18 surrounding small mounds. Two passage tombs are not accessible to tourists (only a glimpse into one of the passages), but there is a showroom, where the video demonstrates the impressive interior of the passage. Large mound’s perimeter is circled with 127 big stones, many of which are nicely carved. The guides specifically emphasize that the site has been continuously used from the ancient times until the late medieval period (and of course, the remind that these tombs are older than the pyramids). Knowth also has a reconstruction of timber monument probably used for rituals. It is possible to climb the large mound and enjoy a beautiful view to the surrounding green valleys.
Newgrange is a single large passage tomb with 97 kerbstones with richly decorated main entrance stone; however, other stones are not so well carved as at Knowth. The highlight is 5,000-year-old passage, 19 meters long with a bit narrow stretch at the beginning, leading to a chamber with round roofs and three tomb chambers. The guide highlighted that after 5,000 years of Irish rains the roof has been still water proof! Inside stones have both historical visitors’ graffiti and ancient spiral carvings. The guide also turned off the light and demonstrated how the sun is entering the chamber during the winter solstice.
Dowth is not yet ready for tourist visits, but it could be approached independently with a car (11 km drive from the visitor center).
When visiting the complex of Bru na Boinne xI was impressed how well preserved the site was. It was not something I had expected from a site that old. I also learnt some interesting facts regarding the sites that are not normally mentioned:
1) The complex is the second largest concentration of neolithic art in the world (after the WHS Neolithic Orkney). As most of the art is presented on large stone slabs it is dubbed the largest concentration of megalithic art in the world.
2) One of the carvings presents a whale. I couldn't find any information as to whether whales lived in Europe at the time the site was built.
3) Almost all materials used in the construction of the site had to be transported from afar. Each material was transported from a different location. The furthest location had to be the Alps, which suggests that commerce on quite a large scale already existed in neolithic society. Closer links probably existed with Orkney, which also features evident cultural similarities.
4) The site consists of three locations, each with its own passage grave. Although the most visited one is Newgrange it is neither the largest nor the most impressive one. This honour belongs to Knowth. I would warmly recommend visiting both.
5) Unlike Knowth and Newgrange, Dowth is privately owned and at the moment cannot be visited. Work is underway for it to be opened to visitors.
6) Several unexcavated tombs can be seen in the area. Currently due to lack of funds there are no plans to excavate them.
7) Knowledge of the holy status of these tombs remained for thousand of years until the Christian period. The Romans paid their tribute in the form of a buried treasure next to Newgrange. In Knowth some signs of iconoclasm are visible. Four Christian kings of the 8th and 9th centuries had some of the slabs defaced and their names written on them for everyone to know.
I visited Bru na Boinne by public transport from Dublin. It is easy to take the train to Drogheda (30-60 minutes from central Dublin, trains travel about twice an hour). From Drogheda I took a taxi to the visitor centre (15 Euros each way). If you come early in the morning you will find a spot at tours for both Knowth and Newgrange. Funnily, sunny days see less visitors than rainy ones, said my guide.
Within an hour of leaving Dublin's international airport, my friends and I found ourselves within the beautifully bucolic Boyne River valley, home to the neolithic history encapsulated in the Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne World Heritage Site. We arrived at the visitor center as soon as it opened in the morning, and were thus able to secure a visit on the earliest tour to Newgrange tomb. The visitor center is an excellent way to prepare for a visit to Newgrange, with exhibits on the life of local inhabitants from around 3200 B.C., and a replica of the tomb passage and chamber that is wheelchair accessible. After we toured the visitor center, we boarded a bus which took us to Newgrange tomb, which sits atop a hill overlooking the verdant Boyne River valley. I enjoyed the walk back in time through the passage to the inner chamber, where the guide helpfully turned off the lights and provided a simulation of what the light would look like when the sun is lined up with the tomb entrance at the winter solstice. I also appreciated the stone art, including the spirals carved into rocks inside and outside the tomb. A visit to Brú na Bóinne is an excellent introduction to the rich history of the Emerald Isle.
Logistics: Brú na Bóinne is situated in the Irish countryside, and is most easily reached by automobile or other private transportation. Day tours with tour companies departing from Dublin are an alternative option for visits.
There are a few places that make up the site but I decided to see it by visiting Newgrange - which is the easiest to get to, the most popular and (probably) the most interesting.
I found the easiest way to get there without a car was to jump on one of the coach tours that go out there each day. It also means you are guaranteed a spot in a group tour of the site when you arrive. You need to go in with a guide so if you just turn up, you may have to wait until there's a spot.
The site itself is quite interesting from the outside, although it was 'reconstructed' in a way that experts thought it would have looked. The real highlight, though, is when you go inside. The detail in the rock carvings is incredible and it has been so well preserved after all these millennia. There's a good demonstration of how the sun would look during the solstice - gosh it would be quite an experience to be inside the cavern for that!!
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
I visited this WHS in July 2012 and was expecting Newgrange to be the highlight of my trip. By all means, Newgrange is well kept and the triathlon entrance, spiral engravings and the watertight interior make it an incredible site. The young local guides are making a good job there. They also switch off the light inside to simulate the winter solstice sun rays creeping in and lighting the whole place. However, the surprise and real highlight of my visit was Knowth. Knowth comprises a series of well-restored prehistoric passage tombs which really show that this place was considered to be a very special and important place. I could notice the many similarities with the neolithic temples of Malta and indeed several studies were made and are still being made to compare these extraordinary sites. In the main passage tomb of Knowth, an ornate flint macehead or pendant was found and it can be seen in the National Museum of Archaeology in Dublin. It is almost impossible to even make a scratch on flint without machinery but incredibly enough this artefact was neatly engraved and decorated!
Older then the pyramids and still holding up fine...of course with a little restoration on the side. The Bend of the Boyne is a fabulous archaelogical site, and is truly one of the highlights of any trip to Ireland.
Despite crowds at the visitors center and tour buses aplenty,the actual site is not at all overrun; with only a limited amount of tourists allowed in each day.
The site itself is composed of three section: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Dowth is not open to the public.
I visited both Newgrange and Knowth, and while I must agree with the reviews below that state that Newgrange is phenomenal, I must put in that Knowth is even better.
Newgrange is composed of a single (albeit, large and spectacular) burial mound, but Knowth has over 40 different burial mounds. Furthermore, the biggest mound at Knowth is 33% larger then that at newgrange. Added to this, Knowth also contains remains of medieval cellars (Souterrains) which are interesting.
But what really sets Knowth apart from anything else is the rock art. Dating from 5000 B.C., there is a phenomenal amount of scribbled swirls, loops, and crescents on the rocks that surround the base of the largest mound. Truly a treasure.
One of the most interesting things about the Bend of the Boyne is the difference between Newgrange and Knowth. Both were restored in the 60s and 70s, but by different archaeologists with different ideas of how it originally looked. The glittering white quartzite that makes up the wall of Newgrange was on the ground lying around the mound. The archaeologist present decided that it must have fallen off the walls and put it back up. At Knowth, a different archaeologist decided the quartzite was used to make a pathway around the mound, and he left it on the ground. Thus there are two visible theories to how the mounds would have looked thousands of years ago,
Overall, this is one of the most worthwhile sites that I have visited and absolutely fascinating (the government tour guides are great too)
On a cloudy Saturday, I took a bus tour from the Dublin bus station to the Boyne Valley. The first half of the tour was dedicated to early Christian Ireland. First, we admired the 10th-century crosses at Monasterboice. After that, we visited Ireland's first Cistercian Abbey (Old Mellifont). A very articulate female guide made this part of Irish history come alive.
In the early afternoon, we finally arrived at the main destination of the day: Newgrange, part of the Archeological Complex at the Bend of the Boyne.
Sightseeing there started at the Visitor Center, where a simple exhibition is shown about the daily life of the people who build the structures. The explanations are very specific about the site predating Egypt's Pyramids and Stonehenge (that last one must give the Irish some extra pleasure). When I checked the dates of some other prehistoric WHS (of which there are many), the funerary monuments of the Boyne Valley are from about the same age as the first Megalithic Temples of Malta and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
Access to the tombs is only allowed with a guide. A small bus takes you there, the mounds are situated amidst agricultural lands. Only little is known, much speculation surrounds this site. The stones that were used come from different areas, some from quite a distance. The way they are presented now is the result of the restorations of Professor O'Kelly in the 1960s and 1970s, a reconstruction that has been criticized.
We were split into two groups to get a look inside. It still is a very crowded experience with 25 people. After entering along a low passage, there is a room in the shape of a crucifix. Some of the walls are adorned with prehistoric drawings (and 19th-century graffiti). The guide explains the phenomenon of the sunlight reaching the altar directly on the winter solstice. Like at Stonehenge, there are many astronomical stories connected with this site.
A tour like this only gives you a glimpse into this era and the way humans lived and thought at that time. I think it's recommended to also visit the nearby site at Knowth (reached from the same Visitor Center) for a more in-depth experience.
This was my second Neolithic site in a week and it had Stonehenge to match up to, and I can safely say that it did! I am not really a big prehistoric site fan but this was pretty spectacular. We were told that the main passage-grave Newgrange is actually the oldest building in Europe, and after I have racked my brains I can't think of anything older! It predates Stonehenge by a good 1,000 years. The outside is much restored but it has been done very well, and many of the other sites have not been touched so you do have some idea of what it looked like pre-renovation. The inside though has been pretty much untouched since being completed about 5,200 years ago impressive stuff! The burial tomb in the centre is actually quite a calming place after the tight squeeze through the passage, a few of the stones have intricate Celtic carvings especially on the right hand side as you enter. Inside you have a brief display of the course of the sun as is seen on the winter solstice, which adds to the experience. Unfortunatly I was not able to get to the other two main sites at Knowth and Dowth which show what the sites would have looked like before the extensive restoration.
I visited the site on a day trip from Dublin, and despite having a bit of a fear of organised tours and the herding that comes with them I had a really good experience and would very strongly recommend anyone coming up from Dublin to hunt out Mary Gibbons tours (www.newgrangetours.com) as they are excellent and do a great job of weaving Irish history into a much broader Western European context, and they also guarantee entry to Newgrange which is a good guarantee to have as numbers are strictly limited. If you are doing it independently there are busses that run to the site from Drogheda (on the Dublin to Belfast motorway) four times a day or one direct from Dublin. You will have to go the excellent Visitor centre to gain access to the sites and will be transported from there on a guided tour, the only way to see the sites!
Blessed with sunny December weather, I made a day trip to the Bend of the Boyne during a visit to Dublin in December 2004. Not wanting to have the hassle of driving, I chose to join a tour that would hit some of the highlights for me. Unfortunately, it was the winter solstice, so Newgrange was reserved for dignitaries and other more important people than I. This meant, however, that the tour was able to go more in depth into some other passage graves, ancient abbeys, and other Stone Age sites, such as Four Knocks and the Hill of Tara. Very pleasant way to recover from a Dublin-induced hangover.
Dowth, Knowth, Newgrange in the valley of the Boyne. Tara. My friend & I travelled to Ireland for 2 weeks in July of 2002. We started at Newgrange and then went on to Carrowmore, Carrowkeel, the Burren. I highly recommend visiting them in the sun or rain. Rain makes them even more special. High clearance vehicle for Carrowkeel. Visit www.megalithomania.com for pics and info on megalithic sites throughout Ireland.
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