The last time I was in Newgrange was probably on a school tour many years ago. Living relatively close to it I decided to revisit. Given that it has been there for over 5,000 years I wasn’t expecting much of a change. Having looked at the website I discovered two things. One, for such an iconic visitor attraction the website is in need of a serious overhaul. It’s bland, awkwardly laid out and less than impressive. It all feels a bit dated really. The second thing however was more encouraging, and that was that the cost of visiting was actually quite reasonable. Tickets to just the exhibition and visitors centre are €3.00, although I’m not sure why you would take the trouble to visit and not see the actual passage tomb. Tickets to Newgrange/Exhibition Centre are €6 and to include Knowth also they are €11.
The visitor centre has a small gift shop and a large café area which takes up most of the ground floor. In my humble opinion the food, although varied in it’s offerings is very over priced. Over €12 for a small cottage pie (on its own) is not exactly good value for money. The design is also a bit counter productive and I would imagine with large crowds you may be left waiting for some time before you are served.
The upper floor has an exhibition area which includes a variety of staged props and information stands. It was quite small with not much to see and it felt a bit budget to be honest. Personally I think it needs a revamp and a bit of investment to make it a more interactive and informative exhibition space.
To visit the monuments you take a scenic walk across the River Boyne to meet with the various coaches which will take you to your passage tomb of choice. Each one is only about a ten minute drive away.
When you arrive at the Newgrange site you are met by a tour guide and advised that the bus will return in about an hours time to pick you up again. You are then taken as a group up to the actual passage tomb and given an overview of the surrounding area which is actually a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site along with a history of the construction of Newgrange itself.
The groups are usually split in two with half given the opportunity to take a walk around the site while the rest go inside the actual tomb itself. Photography within the passage way is strictly forbidden and enforced which is a bit of a shame. Despite it only being 19 metres in length and quite narrow in parts it’s an impressive piece of construction. At the end of the passage is a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof which was used to hold the bones of the dearly departed. The guide informed us that the temperature in the chamber remains at a constant 10 degrees all year round and is completely water tight.
While in the chamber the guide uses a light show to demonstrate how the suns rays would travel up the passage and illuminate the chamber. The light actually travels through the window box above the door which you can see in the picture below. The actual illumination of the chamber lasts about 17 minutes in total from 9.00 a.m. on December 21st each year. This is the shortest day of the year and known as the Winter Solstice.
You can also apply for a place to take part in the Winter Solstice via a free lottery system when you visit.
The most decorative of the stones which surround the structure is right in front of the entrance and is covered in decorative spirals. In addition there are 97 kerbstones surrounding the base of Newgrange some of which are also decorated with spirals.
The tour inside the chamber is short but informative and the guide was well versed and friendly. If you suffer in any way from claustrophobia I would certainly avoid going inside.
Overall the visit was enjoyable. It was a sunny day and strolling around Newgrange was quite pleasant. The visitor centre and exhibition space in my opinion really let down the side and could benefit from a rethink in terms of their offering. I wasn’t the only person who thought so. I overheard a few American tourists on the coach saying the same. Given that tourists are the target market in terms of generating revenue for Newgrange, those in charge would do well to listen to what they say.