A blast from the past: Boyne Valley

Imagine travelling 5,000 years back in time... in just 50 minutes.

Heritage Main Newgrange, County Meath
Heritage Main Newgrange, County Meath

Every mile you drive from Dublin‟s city centre to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne turns the clock back another 150 years. It will take you another step closer to the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, one of Europe‟s most dazzling megalithic sites.

Newgrange is older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, and dates from around 3,200 BC.

It's also the site of a breathtaking alignment every winter solstice, when a beam of light snakes down a 19-metre passage into the cruciform-shaped chamber at its heart. From spiralling stone art to simulated illuminations for every tour group, it‟s one of Ireland‟s iconic wow moments.

It's not alone, of course. Visitors to Brú na Bóinne can also learn about Knowth and Dowth (tours start at the interpretive centre, rather than the tombs themselves). The former is home to over 200 decorated stones; the latter has yet to be scientifically excavated. Together, they‟re a unique window into ancient Ireland.

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There are further passage tombs to explore nearby at Oldcastle, Co. Meath. Here, you‟ll find several cairns (or stack of stones) dotted around Loughcrew, The Hills of the Witch. Dating from 3,000BC, one of the tombs (Cairn T) contains a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and some of the finest examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. Alignments during the vernal and autumn equinoxes see sunlight slipping into the tomb – all the more appealing for its under-the-radar status. They are free to visit.

Continue your trip through the Boyne Valley by venturing southeast towards the Hill of Tara: ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland.

12km south of Navan off the M3, Tara was for centuries the centre of political and religious power on the island. The view is superb, but don‟t let it distract you from Lia Fáil, at which the kings were crowned. If you touch the Stone of Destiny, and it screams, don‟t worry... it means the next king has met his challenges.

History in the Boyne Valley isn‟t just of the pre-Christian variety, of course. "The history of Ireland might be written in tracing its banks," as William Wilde (father of Oscar) wrote in 1849. At the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre, you can learn about the largest-ever gathering of troops on Irish soil. When King William III and James II confronted each other on July 1st, 1690, the British throne was at stake.

Elsewhere, Trim Castle doubled up as York Castle in Mel Gibson‟s „Braveheart‟ (1995), Ireland‟s oldest Cistercian monastery can be found at Old Mellifont Abbey, and you can return (however briefly) to the 21st century for snacks and shopping at heritage towns like Kells, Trim and Drogheda.

Fancy a bite? Visitors can grab a cuppa, snack or something more substantial at Brú na Bóinne, or the tea pavilion at the Battle of the Boyne visitor centre.

Visitors can grab a cuppa, snack or something more substantial at Brú na Bóinne, or the tea pavilion at the Battle of the Boyne visitor centre.

What’s hot? The Boyne Valley isn‟t all ancient history. Louth Hidden History is a brand new iPhone app, allowing visitors to browse attractions and footage from Ardee, Carlingford, Drogheda and Dundalk. It‟s free on the App Store.

The Boyne Valley isn‟t all ancient history. Louth Hidden History is a brand new iPhone app, allowing visitors to browse attractions and footage from Ardee, Carlingford, Drogheda and Dundalk. It‟s free on the App Store.

Did you know? Members of English Heritage enjoy free access to heritage sites maintained by the Office of Public Works in Ireland.

Members of English Heritage enjoy free access to heritage sites maintained by the Office of Public Works in Ireland.

Further Info: Check out www.heritageireland.ie

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