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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.