Today was such a cool day!
I’m staying in Newgrange right now which is just outside Drogheda a.k.a. the middle of nowhere. It’s beautiful here, surrounded by countryside and absolutely peaceful. It’s the perfect place to just sit and read a book and have a reason to do absolutely nothing – basically because there’s nothing else around.
Nothing else except for Bru na Boinne, that is. This is a set of three different tombs/monuments that have been around longer than both the pyramids in Giza and Stonehenge. Two of the three have just completed excavation within the last fifty years, the third not yet open to the public. You can still walk up there and see it, if you like, but there’s no tours or artifacts around.
What made this so cool was that it was such a perfect example of how absolutely ingenious humans can be. I’m floored by our ancestors and the pains that they took to create things that were perfect. Even more than that, those that have researched and excavated this site still aren’t one hundred percent sure what these structures were even for.
They know that one of them was likely either a place of ritual or worship, with three different areas at the end of a long chamber where it appears they put the ashes of the dead. In this same chamber, during the winter solstice, the sun will stream in to the passageway in one long, slender beam down the entire length. They believe that this was absolutely intentional as a ritual to celebrate that passing of winter and the beginning of spring. As an agricultural society you could imagine how important this would be.
They did a bit of a reenactment for us in which we all had to make our way down this passage, basically crouched down and sideways, taking pains not to rub against the stones that had the carvings on them. This tour is not made for the claustrophobic, let me tell you. Once we got to the end we ended up in this chamber that was all of maybe ten to twelve feet across with the three smaller chambers attached to it. The ceiling above was vaulted, with layers of large stone rocks building them up and one flat, smooth one to cap it. Once we were all nestled in there, nice and close, they turned the lights out and made a mock winter solstice so we could see how the sun would shine through.
It was pretty spectacular and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like with the light of the sun, golden and crisp, coming through instead. I could see how they would worship such a thing, it would be enough to make anyone have a little faith in something.
They believe all of the mounds celebrated a solstice in the same way, with a passage that was directed exactly where the sun would rise or set on that specific date. What is amazing is that these were built thousands of years ago, long before we knew about axis and rotation and even had a scientific name like “winter solstice”, yet they were built so exactly that to this day the sun does exactly what it was meant to do. It would have taken years of planning, preparation, and marking to get this right.
Not to mention that some of the stones were two tonnes and were brought from up to five kilometres away. It was estimated it would take eighty men four days to bring them there, especially since these were built at the top of a hill. And if that doesn’t impress you, there are some stones involved in the building of these mounds and the sites of ritual that were from up to eighty kilometres away. My god, most people don’t even want to drive that in a day anymore.
I learned a lot, I saw a lot, and am really just overall in absolute wonder over the people that started civilization. The work, dedication, and effort is beyond what anyone would even consider doing these days. Just to put it in to perspective: they reckon that each of the mounds took fifty years to build and the average lifespan of a male during these times was thirty. Imagine rolling all those stones up the hill and never even seeing the completion? Or never even being allowed inside, seeing as how the chamber is so small that it was likely only elders were allowed in and only the most important were given burial rites here.
I’m really impressed. And in awe. Just add this to the list of all the things you really need to see in Ireland.