18. Newgrange, Co Meath, Ireland
"unhesitatingly regarded by the prehistorian
as the great national monument of Ireland
- Colin Renfrew
Newgrange (Irish: Sí an Bhrú) is a prehistoric monument located in County Meath, on the eastern side of Ireland, about one kilometre north of the River Boyne. It was built around 3200 BC, during the Neolithic period. There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had some form of religious significance because it is aligned with the rising sun, which floods the stone room with light on the winter solstice. Newgrange is also older than Stonehenge and the great pyramids of Giza. It is in fact just one monument within the Neolithic Brú na Bóinne complex, alongside the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth and Dowth, and as such is a part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site. Newgrange also shares many similarities with other Neolithic constructions around Western Europe, such as Maeshowe tomb in Orkney, Scotland and the Bryn Celli Ddu site in Wales.
After its initial use, the entrance to Newgrange was sealed and it remained closed for several millennia, subsequently gaining several associations in local folklore and mythology. It first began to be studied as a prehistoric monument by antiquarians in the seventeenth century AD, and over subsequent centuries various archaeological excavations took place at the site before it was largely restored to an interpretation of its original Neolithic appearance by conservators in the 1970s. Today, Newgrange is a popular tourist site, and according to the archaeologist Colin Renfrew, is "unhesitatingly regarded by the prehistorian as the great national monument of Ireland" and is also widely recognised as one of the most important megalithic structures in Europe.
Access to Newgrange is by guided tour only. Tours begin at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre in Donore, Co. Meath, from which visitors are bussed to the site in groups. To experience the phenomenon on the morning of the Winter Solstice from inside Newgrange, one must enter a lottery at the interpretive centre. Roughly 100 people are chosen each year, fifty people receive tickets and are permitted to bring a guest per ticket. They are split into groups of five and taken in on the five days around the Solstice in which light does (weather permitting) enter the chamber. In 2008, 34,107 people entered the lottery. The yearly winter solstice on the morning of December 21, is often broadcast live on RTÉ television and the solstices of 2007 and 2008 could also be watched worldwide over the Internet via webcast.