Myth and Mystery-Irish History

Perhaps because of St. Patrick’s Day the Lens Artist’s Prompt this week: History got me thinking about a couple of the historic sites we saw when we visited Ireland.

We visited the first time in 1994 and again in 2013. Between these two trips I read the book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, which is a fascinating read. It put life into the things I saw.

I had always thought of Ireland in terms of Christianity, specifically Celtic style Christianity (St. Patrick and the Book of Kells), but there is a more distant history, older than the Celts.

Bru na Boinne

The most well known, and preserved area is called Bru na Boinne. This is in County Meath, north of Dublin. It is dated as being built around 3000 BC (same general age as Stonehenge and older than the pyramids in Egypt). There are several mounds with carved curbstones. You can see some of the motifs which later made their way into Celtic Crosses and illuminated manuscripts in the decorations of the curbstones.


Newgrange is the largest mound, and it is very large, 85 meters in diameter and 13.5 meters high. Its exterior has been reconstructed to give an idea of how archeologists believe it looked when constructed. It doesn’t seem to have been a tomb (unless there are buried passages). There is a window over the entrance which lines up with and illuminates the passage to the center of the mound at sunrise on the winter solstice. It is also surrounded by standing stones which likely align with astrological events. Indications are that it was built for some type of astrological function, likely religious. There are carved stones at the entrance and in the passageway and the three alcoves at the center that give clues about this. Although scholars don’t necessarily draw the same conclusions about what they mean.

Knowth and Dowth

The mounds at these locations are passage tombs.

The Rock of Cashel

The ruins of the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel visible from the road approaching town.

The “rock” of Cashel has a long and violent history, both civil and religious. It is clearly a strategic location, with a wide view of the surrounding countryside. Most of the archaeology is Christian, heads of important figures look down on you as you walk around the ruins. There are hints of a more distant past as well. I suspicion that the site is much older and that megalithic stones and were repurposed to build the massive cathedral and that many ancient carvings were lost in that process. It is possible that even St Patrick’s cross may be carved from such a stone.

6 thoughts on “Myth and Mystery-Irish History”

  1. So beautiful! I particularly enjoyed Newgrange. The architecture is impressive, looks gorgeous against the Irish green, the solstice window is cool, and those swirling carvings are lovely. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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