The IrishCentral vacation travel guide to mystical, mythological Ireland
Ireland is a land rich with mystery and myth, intriguing sites and stories - and we're not just talking leprechauns and pots of gold.
From the ancient seat of the Celtic High Kings, to the Mountain of the Witch; from the Celtic severed head ritual to the warrior Queen Maeve’s tomb, there are countless Irish mystical sites waiting to be explored, all of which have tales of pagan Celtic warriors, fairies and magic associated with them.
Here, we take you through a tour of some of Ireland’s most magical mythological sites:
Stop 1: The Boyne Valley: Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Hill of Tara & Hill of Slane, Co. Meath
Brú na Bóinne (the Boyne Palace) spreads over Counties Meath and Louth. The Boyne Palace contains some of the most important historic sites and monuments in Ireland, including the massive, ancient passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, the pagan headquarters of the Hill of Tara and the legendary Hill of Slane.
The Main Attraction: Newgrange
Newgrange is Ireland's most famous prehistoric site. As with most of the passage tombs in Ireland, archeologists believe that it was built around 3200 B.C., which means that Newgrange predates the construction of Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids in Egypt.
Newgrange was built so that during the winter solstice (dawn on the shortest day of the year), a narrow beam of sunlight illuminates the floor of the chamber at the end of the long passageway for about 17 minutes.
Celtic myth says that Newgrange is a fairy mound, or a sidh. A group of ancient people, the Tuatha Dé Danann, or “people of the goddess Danu,” dwelled there. Newgrange was built by the god Dagda and named for the goddess Boann.
Some say that the famous Irish mythological hero Cuchulainn was conceived in Newgrange.
Access to Newgrange begins at a visitors' center, from where you can take a guided tour of the site. The center hosts a re-enactment of the winter solstice at Newgrange through the use of electric lights situated within the tomb. A lottery is held annually for tickets to be allowed into the tomb during the actual event.
The Great Mound at Knowth is the second of the three major passage tombs in the Boyne Valley. Built over 5,000 years ago, the mound is younger than Newgrange, but older than Dowth. Knowth is similar in size to Newgrange.
The mound has two passages (unlike Newgrange, which has one), with entrances on the east and west sides. Recent scientific data says suggests Knowth had a lunar function when it came to ancient rituals.