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Looking across the chamber at Newgrange from the end recess.
Looking across the chamber at Newgrange from the end recess. On the left is the inner triple spiral. From here to the Entrance stone 19 meters away, the ground level drops by 2 meters.

The Passage at Newgrange

The passage begins immediately behind the Entrance stone. Originally, to enter the chamber a visitor would climb over the stone to the right of Kerbstone 1. The modern side entrances with steps were added during Michael O'Kelly's restoration project which took place in the late 1970's.

Elevation of the passage at Newgrange by Michael O'Kelly.
Elevation of the passage and chamber by Michael O'Kelly, from his book on the excavations at Newgrange.

The large stone flag now standing to the right of the entrance was originally used to seal the entrance when the interior was not in use. The dooestone was found lying with it's top resting on the Entrance stone, where it would have been levered up and down into position when the mound was being opened or closed.

The passage at Newgrange bt W. A. Green.
The passage at Newgrange by W. A. Green shows how the passage-stones or orthostats have leaned inwards over time. Photograph © NMNI.

Mrs Ann Hickey, who was caretaker at Newgrange for sixty years often had to coax visitors through the claustrophobic tunnel, as recounted in this description from 1911:

We found a woman waiting for us she had heard the rattle of our wheels far down the road, and had hastened from her house near by to earn sixpence by providing us with candles; and she led the way through the entrance into the passage beyond. As at Dowth, it is formed of huge slabs inclined against each other, but here they have given way under the great weight heaped upon them, and the passage grew lower and lower, until the woman in front of us was crawling on her hands and knees. The clergyman, who was behind her, examined the low passage by the light of his candle, and then said he didn't think he'd try it.

The Newgrange passage is nineteen meters from the entrance to the mouth of the chamber. The passage rises over two meters along it's course because it is built following the slope up the hill. An observer lying on the floor of the chamber can look out through the specially contrived roofbox over the entry. The tops of the passage stones were finished off with neolithic dry-stone walling, with the passage ceiling rising and rising to meet the chamber corbeling

An old engraving of the passage and chamber of Newgrange.
An old engraving of the passage and chamber of Newgrange dating to about 1780. Source: NLI.

The Roofbox

The roof-box is the opening constructed over the entrance which allows the suns rays to enter and illuminate the inner chamber at sunrise on the winter solstice. During O'Kelly's excavations, a quartz block was found in situ, which seems to have been used to open and close the roofbox, and judging by wear marks on the stone, appears to have been one of a pair used to close the roofbox when it was not in use. The only other example of a roofbox known in a neolithic passage-grave is at Cairn G in the Carrowkeel Megalithic Complex in County Sligo.

The passage at Newgrange.
The passage at Newgrange and the roofbox structure above the entrance.
Source: Brú na Bóinne Facebook Page.

A huge flag three meters long covers the first three passage stones. Another even larger flag more than four meters long, roofs the next section of the passage. It is in this area that controversy has arisen over Michael O'Kelly's reconstruction of the roofbox structure. Certain of the carved corbels were removed to the National Museum, while substitute slabs raised the height of the roofbox by up to 50 centimetres.

Graffiti in Newgrange.
Graffiti in the passage at Newgrange.

There are twenty-one passage stones or orthostats lining the passage, and several of these were straightened by Professor O'Kelly, as they had begun to sag inwards. The passage has two gentle curves along its length, and is S-shaped.

The passage at Newgrange, before and after straightening.
The passage at Newgrange, before and after straightening.

This curving passageway is thought to be a deliberate feature used by the builders to shape and focus the beam of light at the winter solstice. The floor slopes gently upwards, following the contour of the hill. There is a spring of fresh water which rises in the passageway; this has been capped and the water channeled away.

Newgrange, Co. Meath by The Discovery Program on Sketchfab

The roof of the passage is covered with flags, and during the excavation a number of these were found to be carved with special grooves on their upper edges, the purpose of which is to carry off rainwater. That the interior of Newgrange has been kept dry for over 5,000 years is a testament to the skill of the builders.

The seams in the passage roof and corbeling were caulked with a mixture of sand and burnt clay to help with the dry-lining. This caulking was used to date the construction of the monument, dating the construction of the passage to around 3,150 BC. As the passage approaches the chamber, the roofing corbels rise like a flight of steps, and rises to meet and interlock with the corbeling of the chamber roof.

The Queen of Heaven appears at Newgrange by Sean Hillen.
The Queen of Heaven appears in the passage of Newgrange by artist Sean Hillen.

There is art on many of the passage stones, though it is not always easy to see when visiting, as the passage is narrow, and you only get a few moments to look while a tour is on. Several of the designs have been worn smooth by the amount of visitors who have squeezed through here since the mound was opened.

Many of the carvings are of diamonds or lozenges, triangles, wavy 'light lines' and there are a beautiful set of spirals on the left located in a tight space two thirds of the way in, which may constitute Newgrange's third triple spiral. Some of the roofing flags are also engraved, including a fine example at the back of the top of the roof-box.

The point where the passage and chamber meet.
The point where the passage and chamber of Newgrange meet. In megalithic chambers this is always the point where most stress occurs. This image is one of the oldest photos know of Newgrange.