European Adventures | Ireland | Newgrange and the Hill of Tara

We spent our last full day "in Dublin" actually on a bus tour outside of Dublin, booked through Mary Gibbons Tours. Unfortunately, Mary Gibbons herself--who comes highly recommended by Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the Rick Steves Ireland: 2013 book we found in our AirBnB--was in the hospital that day, so we had a stand-in. Actually, a stand-in for a stand-in; I understand Mary Gibbons' husband sometimes stands in when she can't conduct tours, but he was (understandably) tied up that day.

Unfortunately, the tour guide we did have, nice as she was, didn't have much to offer in the way of actual Irish history (but did you know that you can tell how old a wooden staff is by cutting it open to see how many rings it has?), but the bus tour was a) smooth sailing and b) arrived at all sites on time and in one piece.

So who can really complain?

newgrange tomb
The Newgrange Tomb.

That mountain of stone is 5,000 years old. And it almost went undiscovered; in the 1800s, the landowner here needed stone for a building project. The first stone they found though, was what is now the entryway stone. Seeing the markings, the (slightly superstitious) workers refused to continue to dig.

county meath from newgrange tomb
Looking out over County Meath.

county meath from newgrange tomb

looking down from newgrange tomb
I actually have no idea what that structure is. No one ever really answered that question.

newgrange tomb no entry

When they reconstructed the hill tomb in the 1960s, the head archaeologist decided that the stones would have been arranged in a vertical slope. Subsequent research has shown that the people who built these tombs actually did not have the cement advancements that would have been required to stack the rocks at such a steep vertical angle, but c'est la vie: the reconstruction was already done.

view of the side of newgrange

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the tomb, but we did get to enter: the doorway is only four feet tall, and the (very narrow) path slopes gently up so that the inside floor is level with the top of the doorway. At the winter solstice each year, the sun lines up perfectly with the window at the top of the doorway, lighting up the inner chamber.

I'm doing a terrible job of explaining all of this, but there's more information available here.

From the Newgrange tomb, we headed back to the bus for a trip to the Hill of Tara (the same one that lends it name to the O'Hara family home).

Which looks less like one hill and more like a lot of little hills, because (fun story!) once upon a time, the owner of this land charged treasure-hunters for the rights to dig up the land (and occasionally threw out the odd gold coin to keep them hungry for more).

the hill of tara

the hill of tara

the hill of tara

the county from the hill of tara

Also at Tara is a tiny little town. And by "town" I mean "collection of four buildings: a tea shop, a gift shop, a bathroom, and... the world's tiniest, most Irish bookstore.

A.k.a. heaven.

irish saints books at tara

gaelic book at irish bookstore in tara


See the rest of our trip (or rather, what I've posted photos of so far) here.


  1. Beautiful pictures! I loved visited Newgrange - in my opinion it's way better than Stonehenge. How I'd love to win the lottery to be there on the winter Solstice! :)

  2. That looks amazing! I'm sorry that your bus tour wasn't a bit better, but it sounds like you made the best of it. I definitely want to see Newgrange, now. And I ditto what Emily says: oh, to be there on the winter solstice!

  3. Thanks for the post and the pictures

  4. The bus tour seemed to be the best way to see Newgrange without renting another car in Dublin, so I'm glad we did it-even if the guide was a little iffy at times. She was at least nice and punctual!

  5. That would be so amazing. I can't even imagine how cool it would be to see that tomb as it was (presumably) meant to be seen.

    And I haven't been to Stonehenge, though it's on my someday list!


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