Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Illustration of the Entrance Stone at Newgrange.
The Entrance Stone at Newgrange. Illustration © Padraig Conway.

The Entrance Stone

The Newgrange Entrance Stone is the masterpiece of the neolithic passage-grave builders in the Boyne Valley, and is the most recognisable symbol of prehistory in Ireland. I have to add here that it is this stone which fired my imagination when I first came across it in History of Art at the age of 15; we had to learn to draw it freehand, then from memory. I have been fascinated with it ever since.

Entrance to Newgrange.
Illustration of the Entrance Stone by H. G. Leask, printed on the cover of R. A. S. Macalister's 1929 Penny Guide to Newgrange.

The decoration consists of a large triple spiral engraved with double loops which fill the left side of the Entrance Stone. The spirals rotate clockwise on the way to the centre and anti-clockwise moving away from the centre, a kind of ancient Irish version of the Yin Yang. The triple spiral is echoed by another expression on a stone in the passageway, and yet another within the deepest recess of the inner chamber.

Triple spiral.
The triple spiral.

A group of chevrons ( diamond shaped engravings ) emerge from the left side of the spiral. The stone is divided by a vertical groove which marks the entrance position and azimuth of the sunrise on the winter solstice.

The line or central groove lines up with the deep groove or channel dividing the artwork on companion-stone Kerbstone 52 at the opposite side of the mound. The right side of the stone is composed of two bands of spirals which give way to a series of chevrons and arcs which move to the right and away from the triple-spiral.

The triple spiral
Back Recess: Right-hand walling stone (ingenious pattern of three linked spirals). The inner spiral is one third of the size of the outer spiral.

The small triangle at the bottom centre of the Entrance stone is intriguing, and it has been suggested that this is a carving of the view to the chamber when standing before the mound.

Kerbstone 1 artwork in San Francisco.
The Entrance Stone: artwork in progress during a workshop in San Francisco, July 2013.

Symbolism of the Spiral

There has been much speculation about the meaning of this stone, and if you go on a tour at Newgrange, the guides there will always offer some of these gems. One of the most common explanations ( and most simple-minded ) is that the large triple spiral represents the three hige cairns; the spirals on the right represent some of the smaller mounds, and the wavy lines on the bottom represent the River Boyne. In this scheme, the rectangles, triangles and lozenges are the fields of the first farmers.

A movable, three dimensional model of the Entrance Stone at Newgrange.

My own ideas about this symbol would believe that it is a lot more complex than that. My latest interpretation—since I began to play traditional music myself—is that it may bear some kind relationship to musical notation. Modern notation has a spiral in the 'treble' clef and the base clefs, while the chevrons appear close to where you might mark sharp or flat notes.

The stone seems to represent, in very geometrical terms, the division between the Land of the Living and the World of the Dead. Perhaps the left-hand panel of the stone represents the moment of epiphany, the moment of creation, of incarnation, with the solid line defining the liminal barrier between the World of Spirit and the World of Matter.

Visitors filing in through the Entrance of Newgrange.
Visitors filing in through the entrance of Newgrange.

This brings us into deeper levels of symbolism, as music is closely related - indeed is formed from vibrations, and there are many, many New Age theories about Newgrange. All energy moves in a spiral motion - there are many examples in nature such water going down a hole, tornadoes, cyclones, anti-cyclones, etc, or gyres, as W. B. Yeats, (who disliked the word spiral) would prefer to use.

Painting of K1 by Padraig Conway.
Megalithic art workshop, California State Fair, Sacramento, July 2013.

In the past, visitors had to climb over the stone next to the Entrance stone to gain access to the chamber. During the restorations in the 1970's a modern arrangement of cut limestone wings was added to each side of the Entrance.

The Entrance Stone
Kerbstone 1, the Entrance Stone guards access to the interior of Newgrange. This highly symbolic engraving is the neolithic masterpiece of Europe. The stone is 3.5 meters long and was carved in position about 5,200 years ago. This is a full sized painting based on a rubbing. The colours are taken from a photograph in Michael Poynder's book, Pi in the Sky.