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What is it?

Only archaeological excavation can establish the nature of this underground feature


Neolithic Cursus?

Cursus monuments are Neolithic structures (between 3400 and 3000 BC) consisting of parallel ditches or trenches, ranging in length from 46m to 9.7km). The distance between the earthworks can be up to 91m (the Newgrange Farm example is 29m wide). Over fifty have been identified from aerial photography and geophysical survey in Britain and Ireland. The best known example is the Stonehenge cursus (pictured), within sight of the more famous henge monument. The best known cursus in Ireland is the ‘Banqueting hall’ at Tara that runs up the hill to the passage tomb known as the ‘Mound of the hostages’. Another cursus is located immediately to the east of Newgrange passage tomb. Cursuses usually follow astronomical alignments and served as buffer zones between ceremonial and occupation landscapes. If this site is a cursus, it would have been used as a ceremonial routeway for those approaching Newgrange on the morning of the winter solstice.

Artists interpretation of the cursus monument at Stonehenge
The Neolithic cursus at Tara leading to the passage tomb.

Medieval Barn?

Mellifont Abbey was founded in 1142, the first Cistercian foundation in Ireland. The placename ‘grange’ suggest that Newgrange was part of the farmlands belonging to the Abbey. The ‘white monks’ were great farmers and they also developed the milling industry along the Boyne. If this site is a medieval structure, then it was a barn where the rich produce of the locality could be stored before it was transferred to Mellifont or exported to Britain and beyond.

SMCarter Newgrange
Conjectural reconstructions based on the geophysical survey at Newgrange Farm (by Geoff Carter, Structural Archaeologist).


Cistercian barn, Great Coxwell, Oxfordshire. This massive limestone thirteenth-century barn was built by the Cistercian monks of Beaulieu Abbey about 1246.

17th-Century Avenue?

Just nine years after the Battle of they Boyne (on 14 August 1699) Alice Moore, Countess of Drogheda, leased the lands of Newgrange to Charles Campbell for 99 years. Campbell set about developing his estate by constructing a great house and improving the landscape of his demesne. Four months after taking control of this property, Campbell, ordered some of his farm labourers to dig up a part of Newgrange so that he could collect stone from the mound. The labourers soon discovered the entrance to the tomb. If this feature is a seventeenth-century avenue constructed as an elaborate entrance to Newgrange House, it was constructed using the stone from the passage tomb.

The seventeenth-century  yew-walk at Gormanston, Co. Meath. Formal entrance avenues became a standard feature of the ‘Big House’ after the Battle of the Boyne.
House at Oldbawn, Co. Dublin
H.G. Leask’s conjectural drawing of the formal avenues into Oldbawn House, Co. Dublin

Author: Matthew Stout

Lecturer, School of History and Geography, St Patrick's Campus, DCU

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