Ireland’s #1 mind-blowing attraction
For anyone with a serious love of Ireland, there is one historic site that stands above all the other fascinating sites in my beautiful Island, that site is Newgrange. I regularly organise trips there for small private groups, for family and friends and bring 15 tours a year there for my good friend, Rick Steves. I have visited the site 199 times and it never ceases to amaze me and make me proud of my ancestors.
Since my early 20’s I’ve daydreamed of what it would be like to be present in Newgrange on the morning of the winter solstice.
What happens at Newgrange? What’s the history?
New grange is about an hour North of Dublin and was built 3000 BC and is one of the worlds great archaeological sites. It is believed our ancient Irish ancestors built it as a place of worship. There is a central chamber on the inside which is in complete, and I mean complete, darkness 365 days of the year, except for one magic morning. As the sun rises on the morning of December 21st, the sacred winter solstice worshipped by Celtic peoples of Europe, the sunlight comes into the doorway like a laser beam, the beam moves up the passageway until it hits the central chamber when it explodes into a ball of brilliant light, illuminating the entire room and displaying ancient pre-Celtic symbols and engravings. My opinion is that my ancestors believed this was the sun coming to take the spirits of the cremated people whose ashes were lying in the 3 large stone basins and take them with them to the next world as the light subsided and the laser beam retreated back down the passageway, returning the chamber to total darkness.
Why is it the most important visitor site in all Ireland?
Firstly I would say Newgrange may not be for every visitor to Ireland, it is a ancient and sacred site that appeals to a more discerning visitor. A visitor that is enthralled by history and ancient sites of global significance. It is arguable the some visitors will be attracted to the spiritual significance and connotations behind this mysterious relic from a different Millennia, a time when “Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt had not yet been built”.*
- Note: All visitors to Newgrange and indeed to Ireland should prepare to hear this quote in various forms many times. On asking any Irish person what they know about Newgrange, the response will nearly always be “older than Stonehenge… AND (wait for it, wait for it) the Pyramids of Egypt!”. Its a pride thing and is taught to us at school, so allow us Irish that wee bit of a smug grin when filled with pride we boastfully remind you we have the oldest site in the world!
Top 5 reasons why you should visit:
- A UNESCO world heritage site. One of only 3 in ireland. Click here to see the other 2.
- Only 1 hour from Dublin & €5 average entrance. The biggest bargain in Irish tourism
- You’ll smugly boast to friends who only think they know the best spots in Ireland.
- The visuals and incredible depth of history & archeology are truly moving and memorable.
- Make a day of it by visiting Tara, Slane Castle, Drogheda and the Boyne Battlefield (1690)
- Drive, its less than an hour from Dublin, turn off just before Drogheda and follow the signs for ‘newgrange’ or Bru na Boinne. The road is excellent and becomes scenic once you come off the motorway.
- Tour, Many tours go to Newgrange. Mary Gibbons Tours come highly recommended by Rick Steves and by me.
- Public transport, You can take the train or bus to Drogheda and from there take another bus or taxi out to the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange)
– Stephen gets the ultimate honour for an Irish Citizen – being present inside on winter solstice.
– Bus-driving legend, Monaghan-man Dennis McArdle, wins the lottery and invites Stephen as his guest!
Tens of thousands of people apply each year for the lottery to be present inside Newgrange as the sun rises on the morning of the winter solstice (December 21st). Only the President and the Taioiseach (Ireland’s Prime-Minister, phonetically pronounced ‘Tee-Shock’) are guaranteed an invite and intersested citizens clamber for the remaining 28 golden tickets. Those who win can bring a friend (Thanks be to God for this fact).
For a decade my entires into the lottery-box were never drawn out. I figured I would win the actual cash lottery before I’d ever win the Newgrange Lottery.
This year while visiting with fun and enthusiastic tour-groups from my good friend and mentor, Rick Steves, I decided to make a concerted effort to skew the odds a little bit more in my favour, I would put in several entries and ask sympathetic Tour-Members to do likewise. On one occasion I recruited an entire Rick Steves group of 26 Americans and 2 Canadians (cant forget them!) to enter on my behalf and write my name on the slip of paper. But no luck.
Then on a sunny August day I arrived at Newgrange visitor centre driven by bus-driver legend Dennis McArdle. I got my group checked in for the guided tour I went over to the big wooden lottery box where you stick your ticket and I scribbled my details on the slip of paper for the hundredth time. Dennis asked me what this was all about, so I told him, and being the canny Ulsterman he is, he did the same. (Monaghan men don’t want to miss out on the chance to win anything for free) Then we headed downstairs for a discounted coffee.
A month later, I got an life-affirming email from Dennis, the lucky old devil who had never heard of the solstice lottery before I told him about it, had his name picked from over 100,000 entires and was going to Newgrange for the winter solstice! Better still he was entitled to bring a friend. A universally popular man with many friends and family throughout Ireland, decided to invite me. I nearly died with excitement. What an honour! I felt humbled. Dennis and I have done 100 tours of Ireland together as a team, and decided to honour that bond with this invite. I spent the rest of the day texting friends, sending Facebook messages to everyone telling them of ‘my’ good fortune and preparing what to say when I’m squeezed into a claustrophobic neolithic chamber with the President for 17 minutes in total darkness!
Editors note: In the winter of 2015,after a successful 15th summer of touring Ireland with Stephen on Rick Steves Tours, Dennis was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Dennis shrugged it off, like the tough Irish Army veteran he is, but the seriousness of his cancer was clear to all. In massive operation, Irish surgeons (for free under our National health service) removed both his lung and the cancer, leaving Dennis with a scar that wouldnt look out of place in a war movie, but fit and ready to tour again in 2016. This trip to Newgrange is all the more significant because for a few weeks in 2015 none of us were sure we would ever see Dennis again, never mind tour with him.
FOR VIDEO, PHOTOGRAPHIC AND WRITTEN REPORTS ON STEPHEN’S SOLSTICE VISIT, CLICK HERE.
TO FOLLOW STEPHEN ON A LIVE FACEBOOK FEED ON THE MORNING OF SOLSTICE, CLICK HERE.
Note: “Julie Malone’s crystals”
Stephen has a dear friend in Dingle who is a Druid. Yes, a real Druid. Her name is Juli Malone.
When Stephen messaged her to break the good news, she was was full of joy. Without any sense of envy, as you would expect from anyone who is a high priestess in ancient Celtic spirituality, she asked for only one favour. She asked Stephen to carry some crystals on him that would be blessed as the suns ray enters the sacred chamber for those brief minutes on the morning of the Solstice.[/cherry_col_inner] [/cherry_row_inner] [/cherry_col] [/cherry_row]