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        Prehistoric Ireland: (The 'Emerald Isles')

 

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There are around 300 passage mounds in Ireland.

There are thought to be between 30,000 and 40,000 tumuli and cairns in Britain and Ireland alone.

 

The range of dates from the Carrowmore complex (5,400 BC-Tomb 4 to 3,100 BC-Tomb 56) (1), demonstrates that Ireland was home to an uninterrupted tradition of megalithic construction for over 2,000 years.

Perhaps it was the relative geographical isolation of the island, the nature of the landscape or some other factor, but whatever the reason, Ireland offered the Neolithic builders the opportunity to express an aspect of themselves in a way which is often not clearly understood today, namely the development of the relationship between people, their constructions, the landscape and ultimately, the universe itself. This primitive form of communication is seen through the placement and design of the Irish megaliths, several of the most significant of which are located in such a way as to be inter-visible with each other, simultaneously incorporating significant solar or lunar orientations in their design and complimented by engraved symbols that tease us with their simplicity.

The Irish megaliths offer some of the best examples of megalithic art in Europe. The significant association with 'solar-wheels', spirals, lozenges etc, at locations with an astronomical significance suggests an relationship, but one which is not yet clearly understood.

 

   Featured Irish Sites:
 

Boyne Valley, Ireland. (ancient-wisdom.com)The Boyne-Valley complex: (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth).

Set on a curve of the River Boyne, this megalithic complex is perhaps the best known of all Irish sites. The three main passage mounds and their satellites are orientated and aligned, so as to indicate the arrival of significant days in the solar and lunar cycles. The structures in the Boyne valley act together like a huge observatory which would have enabled the builders to have accurately calculate and predict the motions of the sun, moon and earth, in a similar way as at other complexes such as Stonehenge, Carnac or the Orkneys.

(More about the Boyne Valley Complex)

 
 

Light Boxes:

The Light-box (Left) at Newgrange is one of the most satisfying relics from the Neolithic times as it reveals the builders of the passage mounds as a highly skilled and organised workforce at the same time as identifying in them a quality of intellect, calculation and having the mechanics to accurately record the solar and lunar cycles.

Similar discoveries from the Orkneys, France and other Neolithic locations demonstrates that accurately recording the solar and lunar cycles was an extremely important part of the cultural identity of our European Neolithic ancestors, but with at least two recorded Light-boxes and talk of more, the Irish light-boxes take the trophy for excellence.

(More on the Subject of Lightboxes) 

 
 

Tara Hill:

This site is regarded as the 'spiritual' centre of Ireland, in a similar way as Glastonbury is to England. On the top of the hill is the 'mound of hostages' upon which stands the 'Stone of Destiny', the very navel of Ireland.

The prehistoric and sacred landscape of the Tara Valley has been recently desecrated by the building of a Toll-motorway through the valley. (Destroying over 40 prehistoric sites in the process, including the Lismullen Henge).

(More about the M5 Motorway - Tara Valley)

(More about Tara Hill)

 
 

Loughcrew:

A collection of over 30 passage mounds containing carved lintels, Kerb-stones, spirals and solar 'wheels'. This site is now recognised to have several significant astronomical orientations, placing it alongside its Boyne valley neighbours in importance. The inter-visibility of these two great sites offers an insight into the way the megaliths and the landscape were used together as a means of communicating our existence through symbolic design.

(More about Loughcrew)

 
 

Castleruddery:

The idyllic atmosphere of this beautiful little Henge-circle is complimented with some excellent examples of prehistoric masonry techniques, similar to those found in France, Portugal, Egypt and around the ancient world.

 

Castleruddery is also home to two 50-ton quartz portal-stones.

(More about Castleruddery) 

 
 

Four knocks:

This relatively small but perfectly rounded passage mound is significant in that as well as being in view of the Boyne valley, it contains some of the best examples of engravings in all Ireland, including several similar to those found on the light-box lintels at Newgrange and Gavr'inis.

(More about Four knocks)

 

 
 

Browne's Hill Dolmen:

Sadly, very little is left of this once covered over 'Portal tomb'.

Weighing in at an estimated 150 tons, the granite capstone on this partially collapsed dolmen is said to be the largest megalith in Ireland.

(More about the Browne's Hill Dolmen)

 

 

 

 

Ireland's R.S.C's. (Recumbent Stone Circles).

The Ross-Carbery RSC's - The R.S.C's (Recumbent Stone Circles) found in the Ross-Corbery area of southern Ireland are unique both in the fact they are the only R.S.C's found off the UK mainland, and that they are solar in orientation rather than lunar, as is the case with the numerous Grampian R.S.C's in Scotland. There is a clear suggestion of contact between the two regions.

(More about Recumbent Stone Circles RSC's)

 

 

 

   The Boyne Valley Complex:

Location - River Boyne, County Meath, Ireland.

Description - The Boyne Valley complex is one of Europe's greatest megalithic sites. It was constructed at around 3,300 BC, the same time as several other prominent megalithic complexes. It is clear from the orientation of the passage-mounds that the whole complex was devoted to accurate measuring of both the lunar and solar cycles simultaneously.

The site was surveyed by Dr. Jon Patrick, who said of it:

'It has been shown that the Boyne valley monuments were probably laid out to a design plan' (2).

 

The three main features of the complex are the passage mounds named Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. At present Newgrange is open throughout the year, Knowth is open for parts of the year only, and Dowth is closed the whole year round, but is free to roam around the outside.

    

Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth.

The manpower and organisation behind the construction of these monuments is on a civil scale. The guides at the site tell us that the average human lifetime at that time was only 35 years and they estimate it took 70 years to build, from which we can comfortably deduce that it wasn't built as a tomb...

 

Astronomy - 'The map of the external design plan of the complex (see above) demonstrates a concern with solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days' (2). There are 97 kerbstones on Newgrange, and only three of them are fully carved, their astronomical positioning is 'highly significant', and it is the clear from the extra energy involved in creating accurate alignments and orientations that astronomy played a fundamental role in the structures existence.

(More about Archaeoastronomy)

 

The Newgrange Cursus:

A Cursus 'of unknown length' (3), has been found just east of Newgrange. The cursus is barely visible today but extended around 100 m from the valley of the River Mattock to climb the ridge occupied by the Newgrange tomb. Here it is rounded off by a terminal bank. The cursus was around 20 m wide.

It is similarly orientated to the mid-winter solstice, as is the passage mound itself.

(More about Cursus)

 

     The Boyne-valley complex is intervisible with other prominent megalithic sites such as:         Tara Hill, Loughcrew and Four-knocks.

 

(More about the Boyne Valley Complex)

 

 

 

   The French - Scottish Connection:

There are several noticeable similarities between the megalithic structures of Ireland and those from both France and Scotland. Contemporaneous construction features, carvings, and the specific orientation of passages makes it difficult to ignore the idea that they might have been built by the same extended cultural group.

 

  • Both Gavr'inis in France and Maes-Howe on the Orkneys (and the Maltese Temples), were built at the same time as (dated at 3,300 - 3,100 BC) as the Boyne Valley complex..

  • Newgrange, Gavr'inis and Maes-Howe all had their passages aligned to the winter solstice. (Close to the Moons eastern major standstill).

  • The interior floor-level of Gavr'inis and Newgrange were raised towards the centres. At Newgrange, the upwards-sloping passage narrows the beam of light into a thin strip. In fact, the only light that would have originally been able to enter the internal chambers would have come through the 'light-box', above the passage entrance.

  • Light-boxes are a megalithic construction feature that have so far only been recorded at three (possibly four) sites in the UK, with two in Ireland (Newgrange and Carrowkeel - see below) both having the same design, and the other two on the Orkneys in Scotland. This particular connection is very specific.

  • There are examples of 'spiral-art' at the Boyne-valley which are identical to that found at both Gavr'inis and the Orkneys (and on Malta)

  • Stone SE4 at Knowth has a series of crescents running down the side, a design similar to that found on the rear stone inside Le Table des Marchands' passage mound, (nearby and contemporary with Gavr'inis).

  • A further connection between the two cultures came from Hencken's excavations of 1935, when a chalk ball was discovered at Creevykeel, which is an item similar to those found in Brittany and on the Orkneys.

  • The lintel stone over the light-box at Newgrange (see below), has a series of crosses engraved on it and there is a similar stone on the floor of the Gavr'inis passage mound, and others at Fourknocks in Ireland.

  • The Irish Recumbent Stone Circles (RSC's) have been mentioned above. The only other place these particular constructions are found is in Scotland.

(The Boyne Valley: A Comparison with other Passage mounds)

(European Neolithic Complexes)

 

 

   Irish Light-Boxes: Form and Function.

Ireland has (at least) two of the finest examples of light-boxes in Europe.

Light-boxes are a megalithic construction feature that have so far only been recorded at three (possibly four) sites in the UK, with the two in Ireland (Newgrange and Carrowkeel - below) both having the same design, and the other two on the Orkneys in Scotland. Although they show a regional variation, the principle of the design is the same, and is invariably found associated with passage mounds. In addition, Bryn Celli Ddu in Wales also has a portal design which creates a 'light-effect' in the chamber on the summer solstice.

Newgrange (left), and Carrowkeel (right).

 

All the mentioned sites have been shown to have been deliberately constructed so as to allow the rays of the sun (and/or moon) into the interior of the passages for very specific time periods only.

One of the stones from the light-box at Newgrange (below) has a particular design on it which can be found at two other passage mounds: Gavr'inis in France, and Four knocks in Ireland - (which is unusually oriented to 17° east of true-north), a feature which is also curiously present at several Pre-Columbian structures, and suggestive of a preference of orientation towards a star, or possibly magnetic north, rather than the more common orientation towards prominent phases of the cycles of the sun and moon.

 

Only 8 crosses are visible today at Newgrange, but it is likely that there may once have been another, as a section of the front of the lintel appears to have been lost (a detail not visible following the reconstruction). If there was another cross, as the picture (right) suggests, then the total would be the same as the stone at Gavr'inis, which also has nine crosses on it.

(More about light-boxes)

 

 

 

   The Desecration of the Tara Valley Complex:
 
The Gabhra (Tara-Skreen) Valley is currently in the process of being desecrated by the construction of the M3 motorway, which passes straight through the heart of one of Irelands most sacred prehistoric landscapes; Destroying over 100 prehistoric sites on the process.

It is only recently that archaeologists are beginning to view individual sites in terms of their place in the overall prehistoric landscape.

 

“The monuments around Tara cannot be viewed in isolation, or as individual sites, but must be seen in the context of an intact archaeological landscape, which should not under any circumstances be disturbed, in terms of visual or direct impact on the monuments themselves”

Ref: (N3 Navan to Dunshaughlin Route Selection, August 2000, paragraph 7.3)
 

Scheduled to open in 2010, the M3's loudest critics concede much of the damage is already done – 38 archaeological sites unearthed during construction thus far have been carved from the landscape. Among the now vanished finds, a newly discovered national monument at Lismullin that one leading archaeologist described as "the wooden equivalent of Stonehenge."

"All these sites, including the monument at Lismullin, were part and parcel of the greater whole that is the Hill of Tara complex and now they are gone, demolished. The damage is complete and irreversible," said Vincent Salafia of Tara Watch. "Some would say, `Give up the fight. The deed is done.' But we're not giving up because what we are most against is the building of the motorway through the valley that is at the heart of the Tara complex. It's a long ways from completion and there is still time to come to our senses.

Ref (http://www.thestar.com/World/Columnist/article/512894)

 

Opponents of the M3 have called on the European Parliament and the European Commission to intervene by asking the Irish government to review its plans and conduct an independent investigation into the highway’s impact on the Tara landscape. Campaigners first approached the commission for help in June 2005. The commission subsequently determined that the road construction violated EU law governing environmental impact assessments; however, it has yet to actually submit a case before the European Court of Justice, and that delay has allowed the Irish government and the Roads Authority to continue construction. On April 2, 2008, campaigners came before the EU Parliament’s petitions committee to resolve the problem. An EU Commission spokesman said the commission would be submitting an application to the court in the coming months; however, he said the commission did not have the authority to halt construction in the interim, as road opponents had hoped.

Ref: (http://www.sacredland.org/world_sites_pages/Tara.html)



The Lismullen henge.

Those who are expert in this area and in the area of Tara are of no doubt that this ritual site, really a temple, is part of the extended Tara complex. It is about 500metres from the area of Rath Lugh also flagged as being under threat of the motorway. This is the place about which there was such a furore in January. The NRA is trying to fit the road between these monuments – this was shown in photographs in the past.

This point in the Gabhra Valley is the entrance to Tara. It was more or less expected that a Henge would be found in this location. They are usually associated with Passage Tombs. Conor Newman and Joe Fenwick recorded the existence of a straight line of Passage Tombs running from the river Boyne southwards right through the Gabhra Valley and up to the top of the hill. The Mound of the Hostages is surrounded by a henge also, this is 200metres in diameter and is much larger than the Lismullin Henge that is 80metres, still a very large area. These two Henges are about the same distance apart as Knowth and Dowth are from each other. No one would doubt that the latter two are related to each other.

It is therefore no accident that this Henge is exactly where it is.

(Ref:  http://www.indymedia.ie/article/82427)

 

What You Can Do

Learn more about the issue and keep abreast of new developments by visiting the websites for the Save Tara campaign and TaraWatch. You can sign an online petition addressed to Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, and join the network of Tara activists through MySpace and Facebook. You can also get involved with the New York-based World Monument Fund, which is working to protect Tara and other endangered sites.

(More about Tara Hill) 

(Other Desecrated Megaliths)

 

 

   List and Description of Featured Irish Sites:

 

 Beltany  Stone circle - Possibly originally a kerbed passage-mound.
 Boyne Valley.  The Passage mound complex. Megalithic capital of Ireland.
 Browne's Hill.  Dolmen with the largest capstone in Ireland.
 Carrowkeel.  Passage mound complex. Light box features.

 Castleruddery.

 Henge-circle with huge quartz portal-stones.
 Creevykeel.  One of over 350 'Court-cairn's' in Ireland.
 Dowth.  Passage mound. Part of the Boyne valley complex.
 Drombeg.  Recumbent stone circle. Solar orientation.
 Fourknocks.  Passage mound. Highly engraved interior.
 Grange Circle.  Largest Stone Circle in Ireland.
 Knocknarea.  Sacred Hill with huge passage mound on top.
 Knowth.  Passage mound. Part of the Boyne valley complex.
 Loughcrew.  Complex of passage-mounds covering four adjoining hill tops.
 Newgrange  The classic passage mound - Part of the Boyne Valley complex.
 Tara Hill.  The 'Sacred heart' of Ireland.

 

 

References:

1). http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba82/feat2.shtml
2) J Patrick, 'Midwinter Sunrise at Newgrange', Nature, 249, 1974, pages 517-19.
3). Cope, J. The Modern Antiquarian. 1998. Harper Collins Publ.

 

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