While the main crowds in their coaches are visiting the megalithic site of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, you can slip away to nearby Loughcrew, where the fascinating stone age cairns will be practically deserted.
Loughcrew sunrise by Ilja
Loughcrew has no visitor centre, though guides are available, and stretches for more than 4 km over the sides of a series of low hills.
There are thee impressive cairns with burial chambers and more than 40 monuments in total throughout the site.
There is no escaping the echoes past civilisation here, the careful placing of the standing stones, the megalithic carving on stones in the cairns and the quiet solemnity of the stone circles combining to take you back to a time long past.
The illumination of the passage tomb at Newgrange at the Winter solstice is world famous, here at Loughcrew a less well known but equally spectacular phenomenon occurs at both Spring and Autumn Equinox.
The back stone of the burial passage at Cairn T or Hag’s Cairn is illuminated at the moment of Sunrise on both of these days, a truly awe inspiring sight. The remarkable decorations on the back stone strongly suggest that this cairn had some astronomical purpose.
That the people who built these cairns 3000-4000 years ago were knowledgeable enough to make this happen is quite extraordinary.
You don’t need a ticket at Loughcrew, just show up on the day to see it for yourself.
It is well worth hiring a specialist guide for a visit here. In summer there will be a guide at Cairn T, in Winter there are notices on the locked cairns about contacting key holders and gaining access if you arrive alone. The key is in fact held by the owners of Loughcrew House, which is worth visiting in its own right for its splendid gardens.
Please note: Loughcrew is spread out over quite a large area and encompasses land owned by several different people, some of whom are generous in the amount of access they allow, others less so. So please respect and obey signs about access and leave nothing behind at this special place.
In the Area
A short drive away is the town of Kells, whose 7th century monastery was founded by St Colmcille, and whose monks created the Book of Kells. There is also a round tower here and five of the most historically important and beautifully decorated high crosses in Ireland.
From Kells (which is on the N3 from Dublin) take the R163, signposted Oldcastle. Join the R154. Loughcrew is signposted on the left just before you reach Oldcastle.