Brú na Bóinne: Exploring Ireland’s Ancient Passage Tombs




Brú na Bóinne


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Visiting Brú na Bóinne is a truly unique experience that will transport you back in time and leave you in awe of the incredible feats of engineering and artistry that were accomplished by our ancestors.

From the intricate carvings and designs on the stone walls to the impressive architecture of the spectacular prehistoric passage tombs themselves, there is so much to discover and explore at this incredible site.

Key Takeaways

  • Brú na Bóinne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in County Meath, Ireland.
  • The site is home to some of the most important neolithic sites and megalithic art and passage tombs in Europe, including Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth.
  • Visiting Brú na Bóinne is a unique and awe-inspiring experience that offers a glimpse into Ireland’s rich and fascinating history.

Historical Background

Brú na Bóinne is an archaeological ensemble located in County Meath, Ireland. The site has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years, with evidence of activity dating back to the Neolithic period. Over the centuries, the area has been home to various peoples, each leaving their mark on the landscape. In this section, we will explore the historical background of Brú na Bóinne, divided into four sub-sections: Neolithic Period, Iron Age, Early Christian and Medieval Periods, and Anglo-Norman Period.

Neolithic Period

The Neolithic period, also known as the New Stone Age, lasted from around 4000 BCE to 2500 BCE. During this time, the people of Brú na Bóinne built some of the most impressive megalithic structures in Europe. The three main sites at Brú na Bóinne, Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth, were constructed during this period. These sites are believed to have served as tombs, with the remains of the dead placed inside the structures.

Iron Age

The Iron Age in Ireland began around 500 BCE and lasted until the arrival of the Romans in Britain in the 1st century CE. During this period, the people of Brú na Bóinne continued to build structures, including the impressive hillfort at the nearby site of Tara. The Iron Age also saw the introduction of iron tools and weapons, which replaced the earlier stone and bronze implements.

Early Christian and Medieval Periods

The Early Christian period in Ireland began in the 5th century CE with the arrival of St. Patrick, who is credited with converting the Irish to Christianity. During this period, Brú na Bóinne continued to be an important site, with the construction of several early Christian churches and monasteries. The medieval period in Ireland began in the 12th century CE with the arrival of the Normans. During this time, Brú na Bóinne was part of the Kingdom of Meath, which was controlled by the powerful O’Conor family.

Anglo-Norman Period

The Anglo-Norman period in Ireland began in the late 12th century CE with the arrival of the Normans, who had conquered England in 1066. The Normans quickly established themselves in Ireland, and by the 13th century CE, they had established a strong presence in the country. During this period, Brú na Bóinne was controlled by the Anglo-Norman lordship of Meath. The Normans built several castles in the area, including the impressive Trim Castle, which is located just a few miles from Brú na Bóinne.

Main Monuments

If you’re planning a visit to Brú na Bóinne, you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss the three main prehistoric sites: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. These are some of the most impressive and historically significant passage tombs in Europe, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives and beliefs of our ancient ancestors.


Newgrange is perhaps the most famous of the Brú na Bóinne monuments, and for good reason. This massive passage tomb is over 5,000 years old, making it older than both Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. It was built to align with the winter solstice, and the sun’s rays shine directly into the tomb’s central chamber on this day, illuminating the intricate carvings on the walls.

The tomb itself is an impressive feat of engineering, with a massive stone roof and a long, narrow passage leading to the central chamber. Inside, you’ll find a series of carved stones, including a large basin that may have been used for ritual purposes.


Knowth consists of one large mound, known as the Great Mound, and 17 smaller satellite mounds. The Great Mound, with a diameter of about 85 meters, houses two passages, each leading to a burial chamber. The entrances to these passages align with the rising and setting sun during the equinoxes, illuminating the chambers in a spectacular display. It is two burial chambers and a ritual basin.

The site is particularly renowned for its extraordinary collection of megalithic art, boasting more than a third of all known examples in Western Europe. Carvings of spirals, circles, and other abstract shapes adorn the kerbstones surrounding the mound, their meaning a tantalizing mystery.

Inside Knowth, you’ll find a series of smaller chambers and passages, as well as a number of carved stones and other artifacts. These include a series of impressive kerbstones that are decorated with intricate spirals and other designs.


Constructed over 5,000 years ago, Dowth is one of the oldest passage tombs in Ireland. The mound, known as Dowth North, has two passage tombs which can be entered from the west and north. The winter solstice sunset illuminates one of these passages, a testament to our Neolithic ancestors’ astronomical knowledge.

What sets Dowth apart is its significant collection of megalithic art. Intricate engravings of suns, spirals, and other abstract symbols, whose meaning remains shrouded in mystery, decorate its stones. While Dowth has been less excavated and restored than Newgrange and Knowth, this has left it with an untouched, authentic atmosphere that many visitors find intriguing.

Megalithic Art

When you visit Brú na Bóinne in Ireland’s ancient East, you’ll be amazed by the incredible megalithic art that has been preserved for thousands of years. The three main prehistoric sites of the Brú na Bóinne Complex, Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth, are situated on the north bank of the River Boyne, and they are home to Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art.

Megalithic art is a term used to describe the art created by prehistoric cultures using large stones, or megaliths. The art at Brú na Bóinne is considered megalithic plastic art, which means that it was created by carving or engraving the stones. The art includes spirals, lozenges, and other geometric shapes, as well as representations of animals, people, and other figures.

One of the most impressive examples of megalithic art at Brú na Bóinne is the entrance stone at Knowth. This stone is covered in intricate carvings, including spirals, lozenges, and a depiction of a human face. The art at Knowth also includes a number of smaller stones that are covered in carvings, as well as an underground chamber that is decorated with megalithic art.

At Newgrange, you’ll find some of the most famous examples of megalithic art in the world. The entrance stone at Newgrange is covered in carvings, including spirals, lozenges, and a depiction of a human face. Inside the tomb, you’ll find a number of smaller stones that are covered in carvings, as well as a passage that is illuminated by the winter solstice sun.

Archaeological Landscape

As you explore Brú na Bóinne, you will be struck by the vastness of the archaeological landscape. The area is dominated by three large passage tombs – Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth – which were built over 5,000 years ago during the Neolithic or Late Stone Age. These tombs are surrounded by a number of satellite monuments, creating one of the most globally significant archaeological complexes.

The archaeological landscape of Brú na Bóinne is situated within a bend in the River Boyne, which adds to its unique beauty and importance. The area is also known as the Bend of the Boyne and is located approximately 50 km north of Dublin.

The archaeological ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne is Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art. The monuments in this area had social, economic, religious, and funerary functions, and they provide a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived here thousands of years ago.

The archaeological site at Brú na Bóinne is a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the Neolithic people who built it. They used advanced engineering techniques to construct the passage tombs, which are aligned with the movements of the sun and the moon. The tombs are also adorned with intricate carvings and megalithic art, which adds to their beauty and significance.

Significance and Interpretation

Brú na Bóinne is a prehistoric archaeological complex in County Meath, Ireland, that contains some of the most significant megalithic sites in Europe. The complex, also known as the Bend of the Boyne, includes the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth, as well as several other smaller tombs and monuments.

The ritual significance of Brú na Bóinne is still the subject of much debate among archaeologists and historians. However, it is widely believed that the complex was used for religious and ceremonial purposes, possibly as a place of worship or as a center for astronomical observation. The alignment of the tombs with the winter solstice sunrise at Newgrange is particularly noteworthy and suggests a connection with the cycles of nature.

Visitor Experience

If you’re planning to visit Brú na Bóinne, you’re in for a treat. This ancient site is a must-visit for anyone interested in history and archaeology. Here’s what you can expect from your visit.

Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre

Your first stop should be the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. This is where you can learn about the history and significance of the site. The centre isa fully interactive visitor experience and provides an immersive experience that explores the Neolithic culture, landscape, and monuments of Brú na Bóinne. You can also pre-book tickets online to avoid the queues.

Guided Tours

To get the most out of your visit, it’s recommended that you take a guided bóinne tour. The guided tour is led by knowledgeable guides who will provide you with in-depth information about the site. You’ll learn about the ancient tombs and ceremonial structures, the people who built them, and the significance of the heritage sites in Irish history. You can also pre-book tours online.

Visitor Centre Exhibition

The exhibition at the visitor centre is a must-see. It’s a state-of-the-art display that showcases the history and significance of Brú na Bóinne. The exhibition includes interactive displays, multimedia presentations, and artefacts from the site. You’ll learn about the people who built the tombs, their way of life, and the significance of the site in Irish history.

Shuttle Bus

To get to the ancient tombs, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus from the visitor centre. The bus will take you to Newgrange and Knowth, the two most famous tombs at the site. The shuttle bus is included in the admission fee, and it runs regularly throughout the day.


It’s highly recommended that you pre-book your tickets and tours online to see ireland’s richest archaeological landscape. Pre booking tickets will save you time and ensure that you get to see everything you want to see. Pre-booking is also essential for the guided tours, as they tend to fill up quickly.


Admission to Brú na Bóinne is €8 per adult, and €4 per child. This includes access to the visitor centre, the exhibition, and the shuttle bus. Guided tours are an additional cost, and you can pre-book them online.


What does Brú na Bóinne mean in English?

Brú na Bóinne translates to “Palace of the Boyne” or “Mansion of the Boyne” in English. It refers to the area along the River Boyne that’s home to some of the world’s most significant Neolithic monuments, including the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth.

What was Brú na Bóinne used for?

Brú na Bóinne was a sacred ceremonial, social, and funerary complex used by Neolithic communities. The most visible structures are the large passage tombs, but there’s also evidence of domestic activities, including houses, cooking sites, and enclosures. It’s also thought that the complex had astronomical alignments, with passages aligning with the solstices and equinoxes.

Is Brú na Bóinne worth visiting?

Absolutely! As a UNESCO World Heritage site older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, Brú na Bóinne offers a fascinating insight into ancient Ireland. Visitors can explore the tombs, view intricate megalithic art, and learn about our ancestors’ lives and beliefs. The site’s rich history, combined with its picturesque landscape, makes it a must-visit location.

Can you go inside Brú na Bóinne?

Yes, visitors can enter the tombs at Brú na Bóinne, including Newgrange and Knowth. However, due to the fragility of these sites, access is regulated and typically part of a guided tour. Please note that as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, Dowth is not generally open to the public.

How long does it take to see Brú na Bóinne?

]A typical visit to Brú na Bóinne, including the visitor center and a guided tour of Newgrange and Knowth, takes approximately 3-4 hours so making it perfect as a day trip from Dublin. However, if you’re a history or archaeology enthusiast, you might want to allocate more time to fully immerse yourself in this remarkable site.

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