Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne)

Ireland has grown on me since 2015. Every time I go there, I discover something new and something beautiful. The last time this discovery was Newgrange, or more accurately, the Bend of the Boyne — Brú na Bóinne — which stands for a larger area than Newgrange alone (including approximately 40 passage tombs).

What is Newgrange? Who built it? What do we know about it?

The short answer is that we know nothing definitively, and have a lot of guesses. We know it’s old — older indeed than most man-made structures in the world. We know that the present layout for both Newgrange and Knowth (a second major structure in the same area) is a reconstruction based on the best guesses of the archaeologists who uncovered these places in the ’60s.

Knowth: one of the three major passage tombs at Brú na Bóinne

The what can also be answered by the generic term “passage tomb”, built by the “passage tomb builders”. How innovative. In reality, this reflects what we don’t know. We cannot possibly imagine after fifty-two (!!!) centuries have passed (and at least thirty-three of those without essentially any written legacy!) that we can know or understand the mind of those neolithic architects. What motivated the people to come together to construct such magnificent buildings…

What we do know is that they line up with astral events: Knowth with the spring and autumn equinoxes; Dowth (the third, smallest, and least well preserved of the major passage tombs) with the setting winter solstice sun; and Newgrange with the rising winter solstice sun. What an amazing experience it could have been, in a world without technology, in a world where even the furthest explorers and traders had perhaps not seen the waters beyond the Celtic Sea, to stand on the right day and see the life-giving sun warm the carefully placed central stones in the middle of the life’s work of their preceding generations.

Who were their gods? Who were their lords? Who were they? What were their names?

We shall never know, lest ‘The Light of Other Days’ comes true (and with a minor sadness I see I have not reviewed this book), but what we can know is our feelings after the remoteness of five millennia. What we can imagine is what we would be like if we were there and then. And what we can have a guess at is how alike those people are to us. But we shall never know.