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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Boyne Valley

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On the east coast of Ireland, near the town of Drogheda, between Belfast and Dublin, the River Boyne describes a wide bend southward, beginning at Slane, and then turns north again. Here there is a large pre-Christian burial ground. The royal tombs, some 4,500 years old, lie southeast of Slane - at Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth. All three are National Monuments.
From late April, 1997, all visitors must begin their visit at the Visitor Center if they want to visit Newgrange and Knowth. There will be no direct access to those monuments.


The 4,500 year old passage tomb at Newgrange showing a restored exterior.
Newgrange is the largest of the three tombs in the Boyne Valley. It consists of a roughly heart-shaped mound of turf and stones some 295ft/90m in diameter and 36ft/11m high, with a retaining curb of horizontal slabs. The vertical retaining wall is a reconstruction of the original based on the results of archaeological investigation. A few yards outside the curb there was originally a ring of 38 pillar stones, of which 12 survive.
The entrance to the tomb, marked by a curbstone on the southeast side with carved spiral decoration, leads into a narrow passage 66ft/20m long formed of 43 uprights between 5 and 8ft/1.5 and 2.4m high and roofed with massive lintels. At the end of the passage is the main tomb chamber, with a 20ft/6m high vaulted roof. The structure is so designed that the sun shines directly into the chamber at the winter solstice. Three side chambers open off the main chamber giving the tomb a cruciform plan. Many of the stones are carved with spirals, lozenges, wave patterns, snake-like designs or zigzag ornaments, which contribute to the powerful effect of the whole. The tomb was constructed with great precision, so that in the course of 5,300 years there has been no penetration of rainwater.
Beside the parking lot is an exhibition center giving background information on the tomb.
ENLARGE MAP PRINT MAP EMBED < > Newgrange - Passage Grave in the Boyne Valley - Layout map Newgrange - Passage Grave in the Boyne Valley Map

Dowth Knowth

The tombs at Dowth and Knowth are smaller than those at Newgrange. Each contains two passage graves beneath the mound. Dowth can be entered - though with difficulty - through a 27ft/8m long passage. Excavations are still in progress.
In the immediate vicinity of the principal tomb are numerous smaller tombs, standing stones and tumuli.
Knowth was a focal point for more than 4,000 years. It has the largest collection of passage tomb art in western Europe.

Slane Hill

To the north of Slane rises Slane Hill (492ft/150m), where in 433 St Patrick is believed to have proclaimed the victory of Christianity in Ireland by lighting the Paschal fire in defiance of a royal prohibition. On the hill are the ruins of a Franciscan friary (National Monument), with a 16th C. church and conventual buildings laid out round a cloister (rooms with fireplaces, alcoves and aumbry).

Slane Castle

About 1.25mi/2km to the west of Slane is Slane Castle, a fine early 19th C. neo-Gothic mansion. Restoration of the interior, extensively damaged by fire, is in progress, and there are palns to resume the open-air rock concerts which for many years took place in the grounds, where can be seen the ruins of a Gothic church.

Beauparc House (Castle Dexter)

Up the Boyne Valley are Beauparc House (1750) and, facing it, the picturesque ruins of Castle Dexter.

Navan, Ireland

Navan (An Uaimh, "The Cave") lies in undulating country northwest of Dublin, at the junction of the River Boyne and the Blackwater. The largest town in Meath county, it is a busy market center and an important road junction.
The Roman Catholic church (1836) has a fine figure of Christ Crucified (1792) by Edward Smythe. West of the town is a large motte which is a favorite viewpoint.

Tara, Ireland

25mi/40km northwest of Dublin, at the village of Tara (Teamhair na Riogh, "Tara of the Kings"), a narrow side road leaves the N3 on the left and ascends the famous Hill of Tara, a low grassy hill from which there are extensive views to the north and west.
In prehistoric times Tara was already known as a religious center. From the third century onwards this was the seat of kings - at first petty priest kings and later the high kings of Ireland. Every three years popular assemblies were held here at which laws were promulgated and disputes between the clans were settled. With the spread of Christianity Tara lost its importance as a cult site but remained the seat of the high kings until its abandonment in 1022.
Centuries later, in 1843, Tara was again the scene of a great assembly - a mass meeting at which Daniel O'Connell made a speech calling for Catholic Emancipation.
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Hill of Tara

Celtic cross on the Hill or Tara.
The Hill of Tara (National Monument) has a whole series of grass covered earthworks. Nothing remains of the timber or wattle-and-daub buildings of the Celtic period, the finest of which were said to have doors set with precious stones and furnishings of gold and bronze. To be able, however, to begin to appreciate the importance of Tara, visitors are recommended to see the recently made video film shown in St Patrick's Church.
The central area of the complex, the Rath of the Kings, is surrounded by a great rampart, the Royal Enclosure. In the middle of this enclosure are two small circular earthworks, Cormac's House and the Royal Seat. Near Cormac's House the coronation stone (Lia Fail) is supposed to have stood, of which legend has it that it used to sound when the right king ascended it. Nearby is a memorial stone commemorating Irish rebels killed in the 1798 Rising (erroneously known as the coronation stone), as well as a modern statue of St Patrick, who is said to have converted High King Laoghaire. To the north, still within the enclosure, is the "Mound of the Hostages," a passage grave dating from 1800 B.C. in which were found the remains of 40 cremated corpses. On their accession the kings of Tara were accustomed to take hostages from the noble families of their kingdom, in order to ensure their loyalty. After their death, certainly not always natural, they were buried in the Mound of the Hostages.
South of the Rath of the Kings we come to another earthwork, the Rath of King Laoghaire, and abutting it on the north is the Rath of the Synods (second-fourth century), a living area, once surrounded by a ring-wall, which was badly mutilated at the beginning of this century by British Israelites seeking the Ark of the Covenant.
Farther north two parallel earthworks 600ft/180m long and 100ft/30m apart have a depression between them, traditionally identified as the Banqueting Hall. An old print shows a banquet in progress, with the high king's guests seated in order of rank and dignity. Archaeologists believe, however, that this feature may have been the ceremonial approach to a cult site. To the west of the Banqueting Hall lie other earthworks known as the Rath of Gráinne and the Sloping Trenches, probably cult sites.

Rath Maeve

On a hill 0.5mi/800m south of the Hill of Tara is the fort known as Rath Maeve (National Monument), 240yd/220m in diameter, surrounded by a rampart and a ditch.

Donaghmore, Ireland

1mi/2km northeast of the town of Navan on the N51, at Donaghmore, is the site of an early monastery, with a well-preserved round tower and a church (National Monuments). St Patrick is said to have founded his first monastery in Ireland here. The tower (10th C?) has a round-headed doorway 12ft/3.6m above the ground with a relief of the Crucifixion above it and a human mask on either side of the architrave. The church is 15th C. There are early gravestones in the churchyard.
On a hill to the east stands Dunmoe Castle (National Monument): two sides of an original rectangular structure (16th century) with round towers at the corners.

Bective Abbey

6mi/10km south of Navan, beyond the village of Bective (on the R161, to the left), are the ruins of Bective Abbey (12th C; National Monument), a Cistercian house founded from Mellifont. Of the original buildings there remain only the chapter house and some parts of the church. In the 15th C. the monastery was fortified, and from this period date the beautiful cloister and the tower and the great hall (refectory?).


7.5mi/12km west of Navan on the N51 Rathmore has a ruined 15th C. church (National Monument). The nave and chancel are flanked by towers, and the outside of the fine east window has figural decoration. The interior has fine carving in the apse, on a number of tombs and on a font. On the north side of the church is a cross (1519) with reliefs of St Lawrence, St Patrick and an abbess.

Hill of Ward

From Rathmore the N51, just before reaching Athboy, comes to the Hill of Ward (384ft/117m; National Monument), an ancient cult site and meeting place, which can be seen to the left.

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