Brú na Bóinne
Brú na Bóinne, which means the ‘palace’ or the ‘mansion’ of the Boyne, refers to the area within the bend of the River Boyne which contains one of the world’s most important prehistoric landscapes. It is located close to the east coast of Ireland approximately 40 km north of Dublin city, about 8km west of the medieval town of Drogheda and about 5km east of the village of Slane.
The archaeological landscape within Brú na Bóinne is dominated by the three well-known large passage tombs, Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth, built some 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic or Late Stone Age. An additional ninety monuments have been recorded in the area giving rise to one of the most significant archaeological complexes in terms of scale and density of monuments and the material evidence that accompanies them. The Brú na Bóinne tombs, in particular Knowth, contain the largest assemblage of megalithic art in Western Europe.
The natural heritage of Brú na Bóinne is also of importance and it encompasses several Natural Heritage Areas. The Boyne River Islands are one of the country’s few examples of alluvial wet woodland which is a priority habitat under the EU Habitat Directive.
Brú na Bóinne was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in December 1993 in recognition of its outstanding universal value. The scale of passage tomb construction, the important concentration of megalithic art as well as the range of sites and the long continuity of activity were cited as reasons for the site’s inscription.
Brú na Bóinne, also known as the Bend of the Boyne or the Boyne Valley, has been the focus of human settlement for at least 6,000 years. Traces of these accumulated layers of activity still survive on the landscape but it is the remains of the prehistoric period, in particular the magnificent tombs of the Neolithic or Late Stone Age, which impart a sense of this being a special place, where ritual and ceremony played a major role in the lives of local communities about 5,000 years ago.
Brú na Bóinne in Prehistory
The construction of the passage tomb cemetery in Brú na Bóinne commenced some time around 3300 BC and by this time, the area had developed into an open farmed landscape with evidence for domestic houses and occupation scattered throughout. The construction of at least 40 passage tombs displaying a sophisticated knowledge of architecture, engineering, astronomy and artistic endeavour indicates a highly organised and settled society where rituals and ceremonies surrounding the treatment of the dead and contact with the ancestors, required highly complex and permanent manifestation.
When the tombs fell into disuse, possibly around 2900 BC, the areas surrounding them continued to be the focus of ceremonies, ritual and habitation right through to the Early Bronze Age period (c.2200 BC). Large earthen embanked circles, pit circles and pit and wooden post circles (all of which have been described as ‘henges’) were constructed. A cursus, comprising a pair of parallel banks and ditches defining a path or routeway can be seen close to Newgrange. Material relating to the later Bronze age has a relatively low visibility in the landscape. A small number of cist burials, burials within ring ditches and fulachtaí fia (burnt mounds) have been recorded from this period. Throughout the Iron Age (c.500 BC – AD 400) there is evidence of sporadic activity, including burials interred close to the main mound at Knowth and on the river terrace at Rosnaree. Late Iron Age / Roman items of high value, including coins and jewellery were deposited in the vicinity of Newgrange as votive offerings.
The introduction of Christianity in the early fifth century brought renewed activity to Brú na Bóinne. This and the later historic periods are summarised in the Historical Background section.
Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site
The ‘Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne’ was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993 having been judged to have met three of the six criteria for cultural heritage of outstanding universal value. The three criteria were:
- representing a masterpiece of human creative genius,
- bearing a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared,
- being an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stage(s) in human history.
The core area of the World Heritage Site comprises approximately 780 hectares contained within the bend of the River Boyne. A buffer zone, comprising approximately 2,500 hectares extends to the River Mattock in the north and includes the River Boyne itself to the south and extends to the ridgeline of an escarpment that overlooks the core area. The boundaries of the buffer zone were set having taken into account views into and out of the core area.
Visitors wishing to access Newgrange and Knowth should note that this can only be achieved by joining formal tours which leave from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre which is located on the south bank of the river, close to the village of Donore. It is possible to view the mound at Dowth by going directly to the site but it should be noted that there is no public access to the tombs themselves. Full details of access arrangements and facilities available at the Visitor Centre are outlined in the Visitor Information section.