Historic sight? Prehistoric sight is more like it.
North of Dublin, between the towns of Slane and Drogheda, are three passage tombs dating back to 3200 BC: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. The Bru na Boinne Visitor Center explains their construction, why they were built, and introducs the people who built them. A short film explores the tombs alignment with the sun and shows how they may have served as an ancient observatory, much like Stonehenge.
But the most important feature of the Visitor Center is that it provides the only available access to Newgrange and Knowth passage tombs (Dowth is not restored - visitors may walk around the site, but can not enter the tomb). On arrival, if space is still available, for an extra fee you may choose to see one of the tombs. Shuttle buses run from the Visitor Center to the tombs for guided tours.
We chose to see Newgrange. The reconstructed tomb is a grass covered mound about 200 feet in diameter, sitting on a slight rise overlooking the River Boyne. Its south side was restored using white granite and quartz stones found at the site during archaeological excavations, giving it a steep white face that dazzles when the sun hits it. A ring of huge curbstones surrounds the tomb, some intricately carved with spirals, zigzags and geometric designs.
The tour's highlight is a walk through the passage to the burial chamber at the heart of the mound. Again, many of the stones along the passage are carved. The passage, which was not restored but was instead found intact, is oriented so that on the winter solstice, December 21, the rising sun lights up the passage all the way to the burial chamber.
At the Visitor Center, there's a place to enter a drawing. Each year a small group of people are selected to enter the chamber before dawn on the winter solstice and experience the same phenomenon that occurred here over 5000 years ago. The odds are terrible, but I'm in the lottery for winter solstice 2003. Hope to see you there!