Newgrange Ireland

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Martin Brennan 2007
Martin Brennan 2007  
Rites of Passage Graves - Lorna Siggins, August 24th 1989

Known as Brug Oengusa, Sid Croca and Brú na Bóinne, Newgrange in Co Meath has been confirmed as the oldest astronomical observatory in the world. To mark the discovery that Newgrange pre-dates Stonehenge by 1,000 years, a handsome wall-chart has just been published by the Clashganna Mills Trust.

Research by Dr Tom Ray of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies brought to light the world significance of Newgrange. "We quickly realised that there was nothing like this available," Mr Eamonn Martin, chief executive of the Clashganna Mills Trust said of their decision to produce the chart.

The trust, enlisted the help of Professor Ray and the Office of Public Works, who are responsible for the upkeep of Newgrange. The result is a colour illustrated fold-up sheet, with accompanying text, describing how the sun penetrates the passage grave for a few minutes on the winter solstice every year. As Dr Ray first pointed out in his article last January in the prestigious scientific journal "Nature", the significance of Newgrange was ignored for decades. It was previously assumed that there was only an approximate alignment of the passage with the rising sun at midwinter.

Dr Ray has demonstrated that the passage is very accurately aligned towards the sun ­ as it would have risen over Ireland 5,000 years ago. Newgrange is believed to have been built to "house" Oengus, son of the sun-god Dagda, around 3,150 BC when the tilt of the earth's axis was slightly more than it is today. At that time, it's "roof-box" above the main entrance would have just captured the first rays of the rising sun.

The chart also gives a brief history of Newgrange, and describes the interior in detail. It pays particular tribute to Professor O'Kelly of University College, Cork who began the first thorough archaeological work on the site and who discovered the roof box that solved the riddle. As the text says, it compels us to "stand in awe of the Boyne valley farmer" ­ builders, long before the construction of the pyramids, of the world's first observatory.

Proceeds from sales of the wall-charts will go towards the Clashganna Mills Trust, which is involved in constructing a community for people with disabilities ("and abilities") on the banks of the River Barrow. Charts are on sale at Newgrange and "in all good bookshops" for £3.50.

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