Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Kerbstone 1, the Entrance Stone at Newgrange photographed by William A. Green.
A pre-excavation and restoration image of Kerbstone 1, the Entrance Stone at Newgrange photographed by William A. Green.


An account of Newgrange from the Freeman's Journal in 1844, possibly reprinted from an article by Thomas Davis in the Nation.

An article relating to these ancient remains which appeared in the Nation of last Saturday, has deservedly excited great interest, and caused no small alarm to all who are anxious for the preservation of our national monuments. Every man of science must feel a deep interest in perpetuating the memorials of an ancient people, whose history is still unentered on the great record of European annals; but those who hope to see Ireland a nation again should feel a peculiar zeal that when, by and by, with sense of individuality, and a nation's liberty and means to effectuate her purposes, she turns to tracing up herself into remote antiquity, and mapping the varied fortunes and characters of the races from which she derives her descent, and to whose commingling qualities she owes her present existence--there be found obliterated or effaced as few as possible of the monuments from which the cherished history may be read.

Our cotemporary's article, stating that a road was projected, which was to pass through the ancient "Temple of New Grange," excited anxieties which were creditable to all that felt them. We are glad to be able to state that there is less ground for them than was apprehended. Several gentlemen of this city, who take an interest in the preservation of our ancient remains, went down to the locality on Wednesday last, for the purpose of ascertaining the facts, and, if possible, to save the monument from injury.

We are gratified to have to say, that no such scheme as that apprehended was at all in contemplation; and regards the Temple of New Grange, the only fact that could even give rise to the prevalent rumour was this: Mr. Maguire, who is a very extensive farmer, and who is tenant of the land the temple is situate, desirous of making the entrance accessible, removed from the mouth of it a large quantity of clay and stones by which it was obstructed.

An illustration of Newgrange in 1844, the same year this article was penned.
An illustration of Newgrange in 1844, the same year this article was penned.

He has, in fact, as was his sole intention in what he did, effected a great improvement in the entrance, and has also brought to view some large stones, curiously carved after a very antique fashion, which are supposed to have formed a portion of the ornaments of the ancient doorway. After this rubbish had been removed, Mr. Maguire used some of the stones in making a road; but the gentlemen who went down to the locality are perfectly satisfied that his sole removing them was for the purpose of making the entrance more accessible, and that he has carried out his intentions without any injury to the monument.

There are within the same district, and not very distant from each other, several, we believe four monuments of the same character as that at Grange. The name “TempIe" has been applied to them—"pyramid” would probably convey a notion more nearly accurate. They present the appearance of great conical hills. On one of these the ancient castle of Dowth, belonging to the Neterville family was built, and its ruins still surmount the pyramid, antiquity piled on antiquity.

This Dowth monument has really been invaded for road making purposes, and possibly the rumor embodied in the article of our contemporary derived of its origin from what has been done to it than from what has been done to the monument of Grange. The entrance by which the interior of this Dowth monument was formerly reached had been long obstructed, and lost, so that the existence of any interior chambers within it was questioned, but the excavation made for the road-making materials has actually cut in upon the entrance, which is a circuitous gallery, winding round the pyramid, and in this respect differing from that of the pyramid of New Grange, which is straight and direct.

We are glad to be able to state that this desecration is for the time suspended—the person who occupies the lands on which the pyramid is situated having ceased to be a road contractor--but this, we regret to say, is all the security the nation that this monument will remain even as perfect as it is.

Thus utterly unprotected are the national monuments of Ireland, and thus forcibly is illustrated the barbarous policy of our English rulers in refusing us a few thousand pounds of our own money to complete the Ordnance Memoir. A department of that memoir would have been devoted to illustrating, describing, and recording--and would no doubt ultimately have led to protecting--the memorials of antiquity which are found upon our soil.

Casts of Kerbstones 52 and 67.
Casts of Kerb-stones 52 and 67; where they are now?

While we are on the subject we will allude to a circumstance which has given well-founded uneasiness to those who are anxious that these solid characters, in which so much of the history of ancient times is written, should not be effaced until a generation arises more interested about its native land, and more able than the present to preserve her records.

Some gentlemen, with the best intentions, but--without disparagement it may be said of them--not yet having sufficient antiquarian knowledge for the object they undertake, have from time to time opened some of the minor mounds or barrows which are found disposed--and, it is believed, in some mystical order--about these great ones. These gentlemen carefully collect all there they find within the mounds, and having collected, generally submit them to the inspection of the learned.

These small barrows have evidently been used as places of sepulture; there are found in them human bones, and the bones of animals--also, ancient ornaments, and, we believe, weapons. The searchers into antiquity whom we have alluded to think they have done much for science when they have opened the barrows, collected the remain, and transacted these to some society in Dublin.

Excavations at Newgrangr in the mid 1960's.
Excavations by Michael J. O'Kelly at Newgrange in the mid 1960's. The entire structure of the roofbox was dismantled and rebuilt during the renovations, while a large quartz facade supported by a massive reinforced concrete wall was constructed during O'Kelly's renovations which have left the monument looking as if it was constructed in the 1970's, not the neolithic.

Damaging Monuments

They are mistaken--the fact is, in doing so they have only mutilated the book and sent its torn, leaves to be read by those who see them but to perceive that the history they might have told is now disordered and effaced; the fragments can never again be rearranged in legible order. If the position of the bones and reliques, the formation of the barrow, and other characters intelligible only to the experienced antiquarian, had, at the opening of the mound, been inspected by scientific skill, the most interesting results might have been read from them; but the inexperienced rifler has only effaced for ever the history which the sepulchre contained, and which, undisturbed, it have preserved for centuries.

With our present means the best service that the unscientific friends of Irish antiquarian research can render the science, is not wantonly to meddle with those monuments, but to preserve them whole to be read by men, and in times, that if not yet arisen, are assuredly arising.

We rejoice that our contemporary has excited attention to this subject, and hope the matter will be pursued by abler pens than our own.

The kerbstones on the north-west side of Newgrange after Michael O'Kelly's excavation and restoration.
The kerbstones on the north-west side of Newgrange after Michael O'Kelly's excavation and restoration.

To some of our more distant readers who are not acquainted with the character of this very peculiar monument, the following description of it from the pen of Mr. Kohl, the celebrated German traveler, will prove of interest. The extract is taken from Mr. Kohl’s book on Ireland:--

A little farther up the river (Boyne) we came to several tumuli, and one of these is the far-famed hill of New Grange. This hill is composed of an enormous mass of flint stones, is about fifty or sixty feet high, and about two hundred paces in circumference. The number of stones of which it consists is therefore incalculably great, particularly as the majority at the summit at least, are larger than common paving stones. The outside of the hill is now overgrown with grass, bushes, and trees, for in the course of time a covering of soil has naturally been deposited there.

The large Tartaric mounds in the Crimea, raised probably in honor of ancient Scythian and Bosphoran kings, are of precisely a similar form, except that being erected in a country in which stones are extremely scarce they are instructed of earth. In the south of Russia a rude figure, carved in stone, and sometimes a stone only, are frequently placed on the summits of these tumuli. On the tumulus of Achilles the traces of a stone pillar are also said to be visible, and in Ireland tradition tells of many of these hillocks that large stones stood originally on the summits.

The tradition is in some measure confirmed by the fact that on the top of them small indentation is found from which the stone may readily be supposed to have been washed away by long continued rains. The-English call these tumuli barrows, when constructed of earth, and cairns when built of stones.

It is not, however, the outward appearance so much the inward distribution, that constitutes the chief interest of New Grange. An opening has been discovered at the front of the cairn, and through this opening it Is possible to reach the vaulted chambers of the interior. To visit this interior had been the chief object of our trip, and we came prepared with lights, for the entrance is extremely narrow, and tolerably long. Immediately in front of the entrance is a little space sheltered from the wind; a miniature cavern, constructed perhaps by the first discoverers of the passage, or by some of its earliest explorers. Here we drew off our clothes, lighted our candles, and commenced our operations.

The passage, fifty feet long, is so choked with stones, that it is only by lying on the back, feeling one’s way with the feet, and pushing one’s self forward with the hands, that it is possible to get forward; and as the whole way runs over sharp-cornered flint stones, the most disagreeable slide that a man can look for in any part of the world. The side walls of the passage are formed of large stones, tolerably flat, with similar stones laid across them to form the top.

We soon reached the convenient interior of the tumulus, where it was possible not only to stand upright, but likewise to walk freely about, the place being neither more nor less than a small chapel, with three side chapels depending on it. We had brought with us a great number of candles. One of these we suspended in the center of the principal chapel, and in each of the smaller chapels we likewise placed a light, sticking the rest to the walls as best we could; and amid this illumination my eyes wandered over the most remarkable and interesting specimen of old Cyclopean architecture that I ever beheld. Rude and simple as everything was, I fear it will be difficult to give my readers anything like an accurate idea of the structure and appearance of the place.

The writer then goes on to describe the interior in more, detail, but at a length at which we are unable to follow him. He concludes thus-- "These monuments, whether considered in detail or as a whole, are among the most interesting I have ever beheld. It is a great pity that they are so concealed from general inspection, and that the inconvenient entrance renders them inaccessible to one-half, namely, the feminine half of mankind'".

Originally published in The Freeman's Journal, 1844.

Destructive modern excavations at Knowth in the recent past. Concrete was added to the monument, a large slab being placed across the East entrance, while a large concrete bunker was inserted into the monument. Photograph from an article in the New York Times.
Destructive modern excavations at Knowth in the recent past. Concrete was added to the monument, a large slab being placed across the East entrance, while a large concrete bunker was inserted into the monument. Photograph from an article in the New York Times.