Megalithic Attractions of County Meath
The best-known Megalithic attractions in County Meath are Newgrange and Knowth, the main megaliths in the UNESCO World Heritage site known as Brú na Bóinne. The ‘Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne’ was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993. Newgrange and Knowth are Stone Age monuments, constructed about 5,000 years ago, they are older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. Visitor access to Newgrange and Knowth is only by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre.
Dowth Megalithic Passage Tomb
Dowth together with Newgrange and Knowth are the three principal megalithic passage tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. On the evenings around the Winter Solstice the setting sun illuminates the southern passage and chamber of the mound. Dowth is not on the official tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre however the exterior is free to visit at any time, there is no access to the interior except for the setting sun at the Winter Solstice.
Fourknocks Megalithic Passage Tomb
Fourknocks is a Passage Tomb built located 10 miles southeast of Newgrange between Ardcath in County Meath and the Naul in County Dublin. The name Fourknocks is from the Irish Fuair Cnoic meaning Cold Hills. The key for the entrance door to Fourknocks Passage Tomb can be got from Mr. Fintan White who lives a short drive from the Tomb. Directions are signposted from Fourknocks. A cash deposit must be given which is refundable on the safe return of the key. The key should be returned before 6pm.
Loughcrew Megalithic Cairns
Clusters of Megalithic Cairns are dotted around the Slieve na Caillaigh hills at Loughcrew. There is public access to Carnbane East where Cairn T is the centerpiece, Carnbane West is private property and there is no public access. The illumination of the passage and chamber at the Winter solstice sunrise in Newgrange is world famous. Less well known is the Equinox illumination at sunrise in Cairn T at Loughcrew. The backstone of the chamber is illuminated by a beam of light at sunrise on the Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes. Due to structural issues in Cairn T there is currently no access to the interior.
Hill of Tara Passage Tomb
The Hill of Tara was the seat of Celtic Kings in the first millennium A.D. however Tara is also the site of a Passage Tomb known as the Mound of the Hostages that was built about 5,000 years ago. Like the other megalithic passage tombs in County Meath, the Mound of the Hostages was constructed in the Neolithic period, but the name is a reference to Celtic Kings exchanging hostages. During excavations in the 1950’s, cremated and unburnt bones of hundreds of individuals were discovered along with artefacts including stone balls, bone pins and pendants.
The entrance passage to the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara is aligned with the rising sun around the Celtic festivals of Imbolc (February) and Samhain (November).
Passage tombs get their name because a passage leads from the rim of a round mound towards the center, where there is a burial chamber covered over with stones and earth. Passage tombs are spread along the maritime countries of Western Europe, the Gavrinis passage tomb in Brittany, France is remarkable similar to Newgrange.
There are approximately 300 passage tombs in Ireland, which are found largely in the northern half of the country. Passage tombs are often sited on hilltops, where they can be seen for miles around, the Loughcrew Cairns are on the highest hill in County Meath.