Friday, July 24, 2015

Ireland, Day 12: Newgrange

Our big event for today was our visit to Newgrange. The whole experience was clearly a well-oiled machine; we walked through a well-constructed path to the Visitors Centre, which featured an exhibit on the history and surroundings, after which we had a 10-minute walk through fields to the buses that would take us to the monument itself.

From Ireland (2015)

There was a well maintained path one could walk around the entire monument, and the tour guide was able to provide some historical background outside the monument before leading people inside. I poked my head in and walked a little down the path before leaving (it was a bit tight in there). A 60-foot-long narrow passage leads into a domed chamber almost 20 feet high with three side alcoves for burials. The inner room is made of layered stones forming a corbelled roof or beehive vault, which has held the weight of the mound above without mortar and without leaking water for over 6,000 years. The side alcoves contain mysterious stone basins, whose purpose is not known. They may have been used for washing bodies, receiving funerary offerings, depositing the ashes of cremated remains, or for priestly rituals.

Newgrange itself is a passage tomb dating to circa to 3,200 B.C. It isn't known for whom the tomb was built, but it was thought to be the burial place of tribal leaders who were cremated, their ashes interred. It is apparently generally agreed that Newgrange was used not only as a tomb but for ceremonial and religious rites. The mound was dedicated to Dagha, the sun god of pre-Christian Ireland, and later became the burial places of the pagan kings of Tara. Veneration of the sun is suggested by the many carvings of sun symbols on Newgrange stones and the magnificent spectacle of sunrise on the winter solstice. The tomb has been empty of its original contents since 861 AD, when it was plundered by Viking raiders.

The flat-topped cairn is almost half a hectare in length and is thought to weigh almost 450,000 pounds.

From Ireland (2015)

The large mound is approximately 260 feet in diameter and is surrounded at its base by a kerb of 97 stones, a few of which having been decorated.

From Ireland (2015)

The stone in front of the main entrance is of course one of the more well-known of these decorated stones.

From Ireland (2015)

Most of the stones, however, had not been decorated, or the designs have long ago been worn off.

From Ireland (2015)

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