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Newgrange: An Ancient Site for Winter Solstice

A little less than an hour north of Dublin in the Boyne River Valley travelers can visit Newgrange, an ancient temple constructed more than five thousand years ago. This makes it older than both the pyramids at Giza and Stonehenge!

Besides ancient history geeks, why would you want to visit here, and why would I write about it during our ADVENTures celebration?

Because this temple was constructed as a place of celebration for the winter solstice. When visitors approach the entrance, the first thing they notice is an open rectangle above the door, which is known as the "roof box." Upon entry, guests ascend a narrow and winding path to the center of the temple, where the space opens into a larger chamber adorned with four different annexes that were used for ceremonies. It is completely dark with no light coming in from outside.

On winter solstice (December 21st), the ancient people who built this temple and now visitors from all over the country can stand in the center chamber before dawn and as the sun rises the light comes through the roof box and makes its way down the passage until it finally floods the inner chamber for a full 17 minutes. To the ancients who lived here this was a sign that the world would once again be filled with sun and light. To us now, it's just really amazing to see.

Like its summer counterpart over the sea at Stonehenge, the chance to be at Newgrange on winter solstice is a coveted affair. In 2019 over 30,000 people entered the lottery to get one of 60 spots in the chamber! The Irish Office of Public Works holds the free lottery each September to see who gets a spot. But lucky for us, the effect is demonstrated year round via electronic lighting and performed for all public tours at Newgrange.

Newgrange is easily accessible by both car and bus, and guided day tours are also available from Dublin that include other sites close to the Boyne Valley such as the Hill of Tara and Trim Castle.

writer's sidenote: I've been to Newgrange three times now and it is one of my favorite things in Ireland.

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