Last month, I visited Newgrange – a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located 8 kilometres west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne.
Newgrange is the best known Irish passage tomb and dates to c.3,200BC. It is massive, distinct and mysterious. The large mound is approximately 80m in diameter and is surrounded at its base by a kerb of 97 stones. The most impressive of these stones is the highly decorated Entrance Stone. Most significantly the passage and chamber are aligned with the rising sun of the Winter solstice.
Remarkably it was through an accidental act of vandalism, that the entrance to the ancient tomb was discovered. In 1699, the then owner instructed his workmen to use the vast pile of stones under the scrub covered mound on his land as a quarry. Soon, a broad flat stone that covered the mouth of what they termed a “cave” was seen.
I estimate it’s 45 years since I last visited – I had been on a school trip from primary school. In recent years I had read about the restoration that had taken place and seen pictures of it – transformed in appearance from when I was last there. It’s been on my wish list of places to visit for some years.
The day to go arrived – I know I held some excitement but also apprehension. It all felt so organised – a visitor centre, rounded up into a group, taken by bus to the tomb itself, introduced to a guide so different to my first experience of this ancient site.
Entering the tomb still held the same impact that it had all those years ago. I inhaled deeply – controlling the emotion that I felt, my eyes welling up.
There is something sacred about the space. I stood in awe and wonder of the vision, skill, determination, patience and intelligence that these people had. In a time when the average life expectancy was 35 years – many involved in it’s construction would never see it finished – that didn’t matter – they were leaving a legacy for future generations.
It got me thinking about how short our horizons of time have become and the ‘now, now, now’ nature of the world we live in today; about our staying power in the face of challenges (it took 80 men 4 days to move the huge stones just 3 miles); how we can be easily dismissive of the intelligence of our forebears – they were ‘only’ Stone Age people after all. The accuracy of Newgrange as a time-telling device is remarkable when one considers that it was built 500 years before the Great Pyramids and more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge. After 5000 years, the roof at Newgrange is still water proof.
It feels Newgrange is of an era when the forces of nature were respected and revered, when people sought to understand them and harness them in positive and sustainable ways.
As I returned to the reality of the world we live in – I wonder what aspects of those times might serve us well to recall in today’s frenetic world?
How patient are we in pursuing our goals?
What kind of a legacy are we leaving?
What respect do we have for the wisdom of those who have gone before us?
What are we missing in the dash to the finish line, or to discover the newest innovation?