Newgrange: Connecting With My Ancestors

Imagine this:

It is five thousand years ago, the wheel isn’t invented, the Great Pryamid at Giza hasn’t been built yet, nor Stonehenge. Your people have come across a lovely valley next to a river on the eastern side of the island we know call Ireland. The valley is ideal and you choose to settle here, farming the land and building the wood and hide structures you call home.

The sun is vital to your daily life, and is accorded the highest respect and worship. Its rhythm dictates yours each and every day. During the long summer months you work long days, during the short days of winter you and your tribe tell stories, make plans, and keep death at bay.  You spend several years watching the stars and measuring the sun’s progress, making sure you understand the path of the sun.

The day comes, and the tribe gathers. You will build a monument, a ceremonial structure to honor the Lifesource. The tribe talks about what it will look like, where it will be placed, how long it will take to build. In the end they agree, and commit themselves, their children, and their children’s children to the 30 year endeavor.

And lo! Newgrange was built.

When it was done, it could be seen from miles away, a gleaming edifice crowned in green. Its presence dominated the landscape a monument to the ingenuity of humans who brought stone from 20 km away, likely brought by sea, and then floated up the River Boyne. The last km had them rolled up hill on logs. The stones used to cover the mound (cairn stones) came from rock quarried near the river.

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The mound is 85 meters in diameter, and 13.5 meters high  — about an acre in size. It is — literally — tons of rock, carefully built and constructed entirely without mortar. Engineering and gravity hold this structure together — all the more amazing because the interior has remained perfectly dry for 1000s of years (something that can NOT be said about modern structures). The builders were so clear about what they were doing, the external rocks have grooves carved into them, so that any water that seeps through the mound will run off before getting into the interior.

The rocks in front are carved with spirals and waves. Inside, a leaf is carved into one wall, and there are more spirals set into the roof.

Place yourself here:

It is dark outside, the skies clear and the air very cold. It is a holy day, the Winter Solstice, and your tribe has gathered to witness the miracle. Inside, you carefully walk through the 19 meters of the stone passage, with only a candle flickering dimly ahead to guide you. The inner chamber is very dark and quiet, quickly warming.

The priestess calls the sacred words aloud and blows out the candle. All is in darkness, warm and pressing in around you. Eyes closed or open, it matters not, you are blind.

Is it a trick? No! A beam of light, faint and dim, has fallen on the floor. As you watch it grows in strength and the inner chamber walls begin to glow with red-tinged light. Io! Io! The sun has returned!

To see this event, you must win the lottery for one of the tickets available for the four days a year around the winter solstice. However, electric lights have been installed that mimic the event for tourists.

As we stood in the tomb, surrounded by tons of rock, looking at the magnificence of the structure I felt a sense of awe and connection come over me: my ancestors stood here, a long time ago. Then the lights went out, and I could feel them all around me, breathing; not jostling for room, but standing quietly, waiting. The light crawled across the rock floor and emotion flooded through me: joy and wonder. Tears fractured the light into a million rainbows in my eyes.

Io! Io! The sun has returned!

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