Brú na Bóinne National Park

Brú na Bóinne National Park

Just an hour from Dublin, the Boyne Valley’s low-lying fertile land, dappled with fern-green hills, has produced bountiful harvests since the dawn of civilization. On a bend of the River Boyne, lies Brú na Bóinne, a place where several millennia of human endeavor still scar the landscape with a series of massive cairns, castles, and ancient relics.

Newgrange Passage Tomb | Brú na Bóinne National Park

Newgrange Passage Tomb | Brú na Bóinne National Park

This is now Ireland’s seventh and smallest national park, following the purchase of a large tract of historical land bounded by two miles of the River Boyne, known as the Dowth Hall estate. The park will also include the existing state-owned plot that contains Newgrange and Knowth passage tombs to become a vast, ancient necropolis along with dozens of satellite passage graves and Europe’s largest and most prominent concentration of megalithic art. Dowth will bring with it the addition of splendid mansions clustered close to prehistoric sites.

Sites within the park

With so many places to explore in Brú na Bóinne, it will take a full day to discover them all. If time is short, these are the major sites open to visitors, starting with the 43-hectare site that is home to Newgrange and Knowth.


For most, the target destination in Brú na Bóinne is Newgrange. It’s located in the original state-owned parcel of land and has drawn visitors for centuries – long before Victorian-era tourists scrawled their signatures on its hefty boulders. Its powder-white stone circular walls and domed roof, once buried beneath clay, have sat like an ancient cosmic spaceship over the pastoral setting for more than 5,000 years, making it older than the pyramids at Giza or the standing stones at Stonehenge. Rising 13 meters over the forests and farmlands, it has a diameter of 85 meters, is ringed by 97 engraved “kerbstones” and its materials were sourced from as far away as Wicklow. It’s a major feat of Neolithic engineering, one of the finest prehistoric sites in Europe as well as Ireland’s most impressive passage tomb. Inside, a 19 meter narrow channel leads to the main vault, beneath a corbelled ceiling. The mound also works as a calendar: at dawn, light slips through a slit window to flood the tomb chamber on the days around the winter solstice.

Sheep at Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb

Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb | Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site


Close to Newgrange is Knowth, a burial mound of a similar age with a couple of long passageways and 20 smaller satellite passage tombs or souterrains. The boundary walls are surrounded by carved slabs and an ancient graveyard. Knowth, in many ways, is more remarkable than Newgrange for the sheer scale of ancient artwork discovered since it was first excavated in 1962, making it the premier antiquity of its kind in the world. Life continued here for thousands of years and across cultures, through the bronze and iron ages, which makes this site so fascinating. Archaeological digs are continuing.

Knowth and the River Boyne

Knowth Megalithic Passage Tomb and the River Boyne | Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site

Both Knowth and Newgrange are accessed via bus from an interpretive center in Donore, which gives an unmissable backstory to Brú na Bóinne.

Brú na Bóinne Entrance

Brú na Bóinne Visitors Centre

Dowth Demesne

Coupled with Knowth and Newgrange, the 223 hectares of Dowth demesne will also offer access to major archaeological ruins on the property, such as the late Neolithic Dowth henge, Dowth and other passage tombs, a Norman castle, ring forts, a bronze-age field system, Georgian Dowth Hall and Victorian Netterville Manor.

Dowth Hall

For a long while, the fate of the historical treasures of Dowth townland, a north-easterly corner of Brú na Bóinne, was at the mercy of the Netterville family. During their six-century tenure of the Dowth estate, they resided in a stone tower house – with colorful backstories of flip-flopping support for the indigenous population and a murder trial (the butler was the victim, the fifth viscount was the alleged perpetrator). John, the sixth and final Viscount Netterville from that direct family line, built Dowth Hall in 1745 on the southern bank of the River Boyne, over a Neolithic passage-tomb. This 970-sq meter country pile is in need of tender National Parks & Wildlife Service repair – but it has interesting details including a grand hall, cantilevered staircase, a fine cast-iron stove, and intricate rococo plaster and marble-work.

Dowth Hall | Brú na Bóinne National Park

Dowth Hall | Brú na Bóinne National Park

Dowth passage tomb

The third significant passage tomb in Brú na Bóinne is 15 meters high and is now finally connected to Newgrange and Knowth through the new national park. It has triumphed over the Netterville’s past endeavors, such as dynamite blasts used for a crude archaeological dig (with a residual crater) or the establishment of a tea house on its summit. The tomb is 5,000 years old and has similar calendar qualities as Newgrange, as the south passage is aligned to the setting sun at the winter solstice.

Dowth Passage Tomb

Dowth Megalithic Passage Tomb | Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site

Netterville Manor

Constructed as an almshouse for widows and orphans in 1877, this handsome red-brick Victorian gothic mansion was refurbished in recent years. It lies within the same complex as the castellated medieval tower house that was the former home of the Netterville family and birthplace of writer, poet and activist John Boyle O’Reilly, who left his mark in both Australia and America, and was occasionally quoted by President John F Kennedy. His statue lies by a mossy, crumbling church to the rear of the complex, close to a rare sheela-na-gig.

Dowth Henge

This massive, egg shaped enclosure lies 1km south-west of Dowth passage tomb. It’s the largest of four in Brú na Bóinne.

Dowth Henge | Brú na Bóinne National Park

Dowth Henge | Brú na Bóinne National Park

Sites beyond the park

Little remains of the great palaces of high kings on the Hill of Tara in the Boyne Valley, but there are still traces of its regal significance, such as Lia Fáil – the coronation stone; and the views across the countryside are epic, too. A short drive north from the Brú na Bóinne visitor center, the Battle of the Boyne visitor center explores a turning point in Irish history, or you can take a boat tour to get a different perspective of the bloodshed. Trim Castle, a scene stealer from the movie Braveheart, is 20 minutes south-west from the Hill of Tara.

Samhain sunbeam in the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara

Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara

Text Credit – The Guardian

Newgrange & Boyne Valley Tour