Powerful Places in Ireland
Powerful Places in Ireland
by Elyn Aviva & Gary White
is not your usual guidebook. It is not about visiting places, it's about experiencing
them. Ireland is a magical place, bright and shining, misty and mysterious,
filled with powerful sites. You could say, most of Ireland is a powerful place.
Come and explore a carefully chosen selection of Ireland's impressive megalithic
sites, including grass-covered cairns and massive stone circles; holy wells and
sacred mountains; ruined abbeys and medieval chapels.
Powerful Places in Ireland
provides detailed descriptions of these powerful places,
including how to get there and what to do when you arrive. Numerous maps, graphics, and
photos bring the locations to life.
GPS headers are included to help you locate sites that are difficult to find,
as well as QR codes for ease of accessing relevant websites.
If you are intrigued by the unusual; if you long to connect more deeply with the places
you visit; if you have a nagging feeling that there's more to some places than meets
the eye—this is the travel guide for you.
Boyne Valley Powerful Places included in the book:
Lady Well at Slane Castle,
Hill of Slane
Hill of Tara
, Rathmore Church,
(Sliabh na Caillí), Tlachtga, Hill of Ward and
St Ciarán’s Well
Excerpt from Powerful Places in Ireland:
are huge man-made mounds located close together in
the Boyne Valley (Brú na Bóinne), near a great loop of the river Boyne. Within
each mound are carefully constructed stone passage graves; they also served as
ceremonial venues. The mounds are the best-known archeological complex in
Ireland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site also includes a number of
smaller mounds, henges, and standing stones.
Brú na Bóinne’s fertile soil supported Neolithic farmers beginning around 3800
BCE. By about 3300 BCE—700 years before the Egyptian pyramids and 1000 years
before Stonehenge—these farmers began constructing megalithic monuments. They
had sophisticated expertise in engineering, geology, art, and astronomy, which
they put to use in their constructions.
Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth are each set in their own ritual landscape, which
includes other megaliths. From the top of Dowth you can see Newgrange and, if
you could stand on top of Newgrange, you could see Dowth. Knowth is visible from
the back of Newgrange as well. Three or possibly more satellite tombs stretch
from Newgrange towards nearby Dowth.
Although we don’t know what this meant to the megalith builders, we can assume
that this intervisibility was important.
These huge man-made mounds are constructed from alternating layers of earth and
stone, with carefully engineered interior stone passages that end in chambers.
Large kerbstones, laid end to end, surround and stabilize the mounds. Many of
them are elaborately carved. At its height as a ceremonial center and cemetery
complex, there may have been as many as 700 decorated stones in Brú na Bóinne.
The only way to visit Newgrange and Knowth is by an OPW (Office of Public Works)
guided tour from Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center, located on the south side of the
Boyne River near Donore. Dowth is directly accessible to visitors who walk or
drive to the site.
High on a ridge in the middle of the Boyne Valley,
is the best known
of the three mounds. Its unique triple-spiral kerbstone is emblematic of Irish
megalithic art. Newgrange was probably constructed around 3200 BCE and continued
to be the focus of religious activity into the late Neolithic and early Bronze
Age. At one point, it was thought (or imagined) to be the burial mound of the
legendary kings of Tara. Romano-British votive objects were buried there between
the first and fourth centuries CE, indicating its ongoing importance as a ritual center.
The squashed-oval diameter of the surrounding kerb varies from 79 m (260 ft)
northwest-southeast and 85 m (280 ft) northeast-southwest, though these figures
depend on who is holding the tape measure. It is 11 m (36 ft) high. A partial
circle of standing stones surrounds it. Newgrange has one interior passage tomb,
which ends in a cruciform, a shape that also resembles the human body with
outstretched arms. Large, chiseled basins that once held cremated remains are
located on the floor in each of the three side recesses.
Newgrange’s reconstructed façade of quartz interspersed with egg-shaped granite
stones may or may not be accurate but it is impressive. One can imagine the
sunlight glinting off the white surface, making it shine like a beacon. It is
interesting and probably important that the glittering quartz remains cool to
the touch, while the darker granite absorbs the sun’s rays. Newgrange is awesome
today; it must have been even more compelling 5000 years ago, when it was the
site of ceremonies and ritual.
The OPW guided tour permits you to enter the 19 m (62 ft) long passage for a
short time and admire the elaborate carvings on the upright stones. On a clear
morning around the winter solstice, sunlight streams through a roof-box opening
above the entrance and penetrates the passage, coming to rest on the back wall
of the rear chamber. Or at least it used to. Subtle shifts in the position of
the earth and sun now cause the light to fall a little short of its intended
target. A triple-spiral design is carved into the side wall of the rear recess,
and it is possible that the morning sunlight was reflected (by a polished
stone?) onto the triple spiral. An
provides access to the
interior for the winter solstice sunrise around 21 December.
Although Newgrange is called a passage tomb, presumably because bone and
cremains (cremated remains) were found inside the chambers, it is obvious that
it was not just a place of burial. It was used for cyclical ceremonies of great
importance. Some writers speculate that Newgrange was used for rituals related
to childbirth or fertility. Perhaps the numerous stone balls, phallic-shaped
objects, and large basins found in the chambers relate to this.
A huge body of mythology swirls around Newgrange. One story tells how the Dagda
(father god of the Túatha Dé Danann) mated with the great goddess Bóinne, who
lived at Brú na Bóinne. Nine months later (magically time had stopped, so it
only seemed like a day), she gave birth to a son, Aenghus Óg—Aenghus the Young.
Perhaps the winter solstice light penetrating deep into the passage was a visual
representation of this mythic sexual union.
A later legend describes Newgrange as the “Fairy Dwelling” where the great Irish
hero Cúchulainn was born. The god Lugh (the Shining One) “visited” his mother,
Dechtire, on her wedding night, after which she was informed she would bear his
child. She retired to Brú na Bóinne and, nine months later, gave birth to
Newgrange has continued to have a powerful hold on the mythic imagination for
millennia, and it continues to be a powerful place, drawing thousands of
visitors throughout the year who bring a mixture of curiosity, awe, and
Although it is impossible to experience the site as it once was, especially on
an OPW guided tour, consciously center yourself and be present (see pp. 00).
Walk around the outside in a circular direction, following the line of the
standing stones. When it is your group’s turn to enter the mound, you will cross
behind the triple-spiral kerbstone and over the threshold into the narrow, dark
passageway. What do you feel? Is it like entering a cave? A birth canal? Notice
the carvings along the way. What do they evoke in you? And then, as the passage
opens into the main chamber, how do you experience this expansion? Your guide
will use lighting to recreate the winter solstice sunrise light entering the
darkness and illuminating the passageway. What do you experience?
Located about a kilometer (0.6 mi) away on a bluff high above the Boyne,
is larger and older than Newgrange. It lacks Newgrange’s awesome quartz-fronted
façade, and visitors are not permitted inside the main passage tomb, but it has
other attractions. Archeological evidence indicates it was first a settlement,
but by 3300 BCE construction was begun on what would become one main mound with
two passage tombs, opening to the east and west, roughly in line with the
equinox sunrises and sunsets, and eighteen satellite tombs. Today, the
grass-covered cairns, surrounded by kerbstones, resemble a field of enormous
The main mound at Knowth is the biggest in Brú na Bóinne. It is 85 m (279 ft) in
diameter, nearly 10 m (33 ft) high, and includes over 300 decorated
stones—making it the largest collection of rock art at a single site in Europe.
It has a kerb of 127 contiguous stones, many of them ornately carved with motifs
whose meaning has yet to be deciphered.
Knowth was utilized from Neolithic times until about 1400 CE. At some point it
was turned into a fortification, and in the 800s it was the seat of the kings of
northern Brega. They knew a powerful place when they found it, even if by then
the entrances into the mound had been long forgotten. At the end of the twelfth
century, the Normans used the mound as a motte.
The OPW guided visit to the site explains in detail its transformation over the
centuries. Although you can’t enter the passage graves, Knowth is an impressive,
though heavily reconstructed, site.
To visit Newgrange and Knowth you must go to the Brú na Bóinne
Entrance is only from the Visitor Center, and a strictly limited number of
tickets are available daily for specific time slots. You buy your ticket(s),
then cross the footbridge over the river to the north side at the appointed
time. You then get on a shuttle bus that takes you to one or the other monument.
Go early in summer to avoid long queues. Allow three hours minimum for the visit
to both Knowth and Newgrange. The Visitor Center has excellent exhibits and a
well-stocked bookstore, as well as a reconstruction of the entrance and interior
It can be confusing to drive to the Visitor Center. Do not trust your GPS to get
it right. The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center is 2 km (1.2 mi) west of Donore
Village on the south side of the River Boyne. The route from the east (M1 and
Drogheda) is via Donore. From the west (N2 and Slane) take the turn on the N2 2
km south of Slane signposted Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange). It is advisable to check
the latest directions from OPW (Office of Public Works), which is in charge of
Unlike Knowth and Newgrange, a visitor to
does not have to take a guided
tour. This means that once you find your way there, you can experience the site
at your own rhythm. You can meditate, do ritual, perhaps have a picnic under the
huge sycamore tree on the south side of the tumulus. Although it is only a kilometer from Newgrange, Dowth is no longer developed and is not much
publicized, so it is rarely visited. Bring a flashlight to help you see into the
your car by the gate and walk up the trail past the now-closed ticket shed.
Dowth is just beyond. The grass-covered mound is 85 m (279 ft) in diameter, with
115 kerbstones—some of which are still visible. As you walk around, you’ll
notice entrances on the west to two interior tombs known as North and South
Dowth. The more northerly has an 8 m (26 ft) long passage that opens into a
cross-shaped chamber with an annex and a corbelled roof. It appears to be
aligned with Samhain (Halloween) sunset and includes impressive megalithic
carvings. A large basin stone (1.4 m by 1 m, approx. 4.5 ft by 3 ft) occupies
most of the floor of the main chamber. At one time, you could enter the passage
by climbing down an iron ladder, but now there is no access. An early medieval
souterrain leads off from the passage, its purpose uncertain. Souterrains may
have been used for storage or concealment of goods, for temporary refuge, or
perhaps for dream incubation and ritual.
The shorter, more southerly passage leads to a pear-shaped chamber. The winter
solstice light that penetrates Newgrange in the morning reaches this passage at
sunset. The Gaelic name for Dowth, Dubhadh, means darkness; perhaps it refers to
the darkness of the longest night of the year. The light of the setting sun
enters the chamber and lights up carvings in a side recess on the right as well
as carvings in the main chamber. Note the cup markings in the kerbstone in
front; they may represent the path of the setting solstice sun
If you climb up the mound and the weather conditions are right, you can see
Newgrange and Knowth, the Hill of Slane, and Tara. The grass-covered crater at
the top is the scar that remains from nineteenth-century treasure hunters or
perhaps stone quarrying. On the east side of the mound is a “faery” tree (a lone
thorn tree) and a fence, guarding a row of kerbstones with interesting carvings
visible if the sunlight (or your flashlight) falls at the right angle. Kerbstone
K51 has a series of what look like sun signs, but no one knows what they really
mean. There are also two standing stones in the field, and our companions
described them as the focus of powerful earth energies. Although the standing
stones appear short, the soil surface is now 1 m (3 ft) higher than it used to
Archeologist and tour guide Martin Dier showed us around Dowth. His enthusiasm
helped us to see not a mound desecrated by quarrying and treasure hunting but a
powerful sacro-religious space. According to Martin, part of the delight of
Dowth is that it hasn’t been reconstructed like Newgrange and Knowth. He told
us, “We’re seeing Dowth the way it’s looked for hundreds of years. We couldn’t
have that if it was excavated and ‘under control.’ It’s sort of the ‘wild
sister’ of the Boyne Valley.’”
The grass-covered tumulus with its gated entry is no longer “open for tourists,”
but that’s a good thing. You are free to wander, to imagine what it might have
looked like millennia before, and to experience the energies that run strong
beneath the land. This power is still palpable: after all, people are still
drawn to Dowth to conduct ceremonies, just as they have for more than 5000 years.
Boyne Valley Private Day Tours
Pick up and return to your accommodation or cruise ship. Suggested day tour:
Newgrange World Heritage site, 10th century High Crosses at Monasterboice,
Hill of Tara the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, Bective Abbey and Trim Castle the largest Norman castle in Ireland