Neolithic Art in County Meath, Ireland

Hey everybody, firstly, I hope you are all doing well. I know these are crazy and unprecedented times and I hope that you guys are able to find stuff to to keep you busy while being inside during the shutdowns. I just got back from Ireland this past Sunday evening and will be self-quarantining for two weeks.

Speaking of Ireland, it’s a beautiful country with lots of folklore attached to everything, especially in nature. One of my favorite sites we visited were the passage tombs in County Meath. The OPW (Office of Public Works) is in charge of maintaining these sites and educating the public about them. My group saw the passage tombs called Newgrange and Knowth. If you didn’t already know, it rains A LOT in Ireland, basically everyday, but we got extremely lucky because we had bright blue skies when visiting these two sites.

Newgrange is special because the inside of it is only lit up during the winter solstice every year. Every other day, the passage tomb is in complete dark. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside since it was used as basically a tomb for the dead, but our tour guide did simulate the experience of what it was like for people long ago to experience the winter solstice light up the inside. Just like the Greeks had their mythology, Dagda is the Irish equivalent of Zeus and was thought to have lived in Newgrange.

Knowth was special because it was made up of one large mound and then several, smaller mounds surrounding it. Our tour guide, Rodney, was amazing and took us as far as we could go (not very far) into the largest mound where we watched a video simulation of the tomb (you can’t go very far inside because the stones are in the process of collapsing in on themselves).

inside Knowth

On the outside rocks/boulders supporting Newgrange and Knowth are all types of Neolithic art. The time period of the construction of these passage tombs (done around 3200 BC) makes them both older than the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, making the art the oldest neolithic art in the western hemisphere. In the pictures shown, you will see the art is very abstract, a lot of swirls, zigzags, and wavy lines. Nobody knows the exact meanings of the works, so your guess is as good as mine. One theory is that children of the people who constructed the passage tombs were just carving the rocks for fun (my favorite theory).

If you have the chance to visit Ireland after all the COVID-19 mess, this is a must see site. It holds a lot of spiritual and artistic meaning and, if you’re lucky, only a handful of people are allowed inside Newgrange on the sunrise of the day of the winter solstice each year. They also have a fabulous visitor’s center with a new exhibition that combines audio and visual components quite well (it was just finished in January)! There is also a learning center for Knowth which was also very interactive. Stay safe and take care of yourselves!

“woodhenge” found at Knowth

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