Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
The massive neolithic henge near Dowth.
The massive neolithic henge near Dowth in the Boyne valley; this huge oval ceremonial enclosure measures 175 x 165 meters, with an earthen bank 20 meters wide.

The great henge at Dowth.

This great monument, dating to the neolithic, is one of the largest henge monuments in Ireland. The enclosure, which is titled Site Q, is oval shaped, with a massive bank some 20 meters in width surrounding an egg shaped bank measuring 165 by 175 meters. The bank is about 5 meters high, and has two openings on opposite sides, one to the south west and another to the north east.

Dowth Hall and monumens on the 1837 OS map.
Dowth Hall and monumens on the 1837 OS map.

The openings may be astronomically aligned, as the axis is of the monument is in the midsummer sunrise, midwinter sunset line, though researchers think the south west opening is more modern. The henge is found on the grounds of Dowth Hall, which also has two small neolithic chambered mounds behind the house. The enclosure occupies the east end of the ridge, one km from Dowth, and overlooks the river Boyne below, 500 meters to the southeast.

Dowth Hall.
Dowth Hall. Excavations in 2018 uncovered a huge and previously unknown passage grave under the terrace of the Hall. This newly discovered monument is about 40 meters in diameter and several carved kerbstones.

Henges are thought to date from around 3,000 BC, and so are slightly newer than the great mounds. The number of henges within the Boyne Valley is increasing all the time, with several new examples being discovered in 2018 due to dry conditions. These huge monuments are obviously gathering places for large groups of people. We can only speculate as to what kinds of activities took place in the Dowth henge. This may have been a seasonal gathering place for pilgrims who came to visit the great mounds.

It could have been a sporting arena, where something like ancient hurling matches took place. It has been suggested that some English henges were used for displays of rtual hunting: as the neolithic farmers grew more prosperous, there was less need for large scale hunting and gathering. Displays of physical prowess, something like modern day bull fighting may have taken place here. The large bank is certainly ideal for spectators to sit and watch whatever action or drama whas happening within the enclosure.

Dowth Hall.
Dowth Hall from an aerial photograph, showing the huge neolithic henge in the field beyond the mansion.

The world's most famous henge, Stonehenge, is actually not a henge at all, but a complex stone circle.

National Monuments Service

This monument is described by Stout (1991, 259) as: This impressive enclosure is situated towards the summit at the eastern end of a ridge above the River Boyne. It is located on a grey-brown podzolic soil. The passage tombs at Dowth are situated 1km to the south-west.

The monument consists of a flat-topped earthen bank which encloses an oval area, 165 meters north-west – south-east by 175 meters north-east to south-west. The bank is well preserved, reaching heights of between 3 meters and 5 meters. It is 20 meters wide on average. The interior has a domed shape created by the scarping of an area 18 meters wide inside the inner edge of the bank. This was the source of the bank material.

New henge discoveries at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley - 10th July 2018.

The enclosing bank is breached in two diametrically opposed places; the more definite of the two breaks occurs in the south-west (227 degrees T) for a maximum distance of 20 meters, narrowing to 12 meters. The second opening, in the north-east (55 degrees T), was marked by a dotted line on the OS first edition map. Today the bank at either end of this break narrows considerably and there are traces of a narrower bank continuing across part of the break, leaving a gap of 15 meters. A slight rise and a definite fall to the exterior along this opening in line with the bank make it highly probable that this opening is not contemporary with the construction of the enclosure. A shallow ditch outside the bank in the south-west portion of the enclosure corresponds to a field fence marked on the OS 6-inch map of 1837.

Looking south west through the great enclosure  to Dowth Hall beyond.
Looking south west through the great enclosure to Dowth Hall beyond.