Standing in darkness, sunk in time

Newgrange. Pic: Waku

Newgrange. Pic: Waku

There’s no 4G service at Newgrange.

In fact you’ll be lucky if your phone works at all. The renowned Neolithic site may be situated on a hill above flat, rolling countryside but at times you’ll be lucky to get a signal.

That’s fitting. Newgrange is an antidote to distraction culture, carrying or checking devices. At Newgrange modernity and its trappings cease.

Visiting the monument, as I did for the first time this week, offers temporal context. Put bluntly, you’re in awe of how old the place is.

The passage tomb dates back more than 5,200 years. It’s older than the Great Pyramid of Giza or Stonehenge. Used for 1,000 years as a burial site and place of worship it was abandoned around 2,000BC, left to time and thieves and eventually, in the wake of the archaeologists, tourists.

View from passage.  Pic: Jimmy Harris

View from passage.
Pic: Jimmy Harris

Standing inside the darkened tomb, having squeezed in through the narrow passageway – and despite being surrounded by other visitors – one feels a deep isolation, an immersion in time.

That Newgrange exists at all is remarkable. That one can stand in the same chamber as the nameless people who built it, reaching across five millennia to feel as they felt and inhale the dry, stony air as they did, is a unique experience.

Unique because, in a 21st century where the concept of experience is often flattened to something on a screen, Newgrange requires presence; it demands that you stand in one of the oldest roofed structures in existence. You must be there.

The astronomical significance of the tomb is well documented. A tour includes a brief light show, illustrating how the sun creeps across the floor of the chamber on the Winter solstice.

But the beautiful moment is the instant before that light appears, as you stand in the total darkness of the tomb, sunk in time.

Because the strain
in the wounded minds of men
Leaves them no peace; but here where life is worn out men should
have peace. He desires nothing but unconsciousness,
To slip in the black bottomless lake and be still.

from Robinson Jeffers’ ‘In The Hill At New Grange’

Bru_na_Boinne_Squire

_____

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3 thoughts on “Standing in darkness, sunk in time

  1. Brad says:

    Nice post Cormac. Loved Newgrange, Knowth and everything else Drogheda has to offer.
    Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those involved in the Berkeley balcony collapse, just tragic.

    • Thanks Brad. I finally made it to Newgrange, after years of pledging to do so.
      The Berkeley incident is indeed a great tragedy – I believe there’s a service for the families in Sonoma today.

  2. […] I’ll err on the side of the Neolithic people whose tomb I visited last week, and the hundreds of generations since, up to the mid-20th century. By eating food, not too much, […]

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