The Boyne Valley

North of Dublin to passage tombs (Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth) & ruined medieval abbeys (Monatsterboice, Mellifont)

Several sights just north of Dublin around the Boyne River Valley epitomize two of the greatest attractions of Ireland—prehistoric sites and ruined abbeys—in easily doable day trips.

The most convenient base for the region is the town of Drogheda, which has regular rail and bus links with Dublin.

Newgrange & Knowth

Top honors for sightseeing go to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Newgrange (tel. +353-(0)41/988-0300;, Ireland's most famous and most accessible passage tomb.

This grass-topped, 36-foot-high mound of stones—some weighing up to 16 tons—was fitted together into a watertight engineering triumph well over 5000 years ago, before Stonehenge or the Pyramids were even contemplated. Stones around the tombs are often carved with Celtic swirl or other decorations, none more so that the magnificent stone lying athwart the entrance.

Newgrange is a prime example of prehsitoric engineers precision at building and their priests' precision at astronomical predicting. At sunrise on the winter soltice (Dec. 21), the sun shines directly through a gap above the doorway, pierces the gloom of the tomb's central passage, and strikes dead center at the back wall of the innermost chamber. Tickets to witness this—actually, to witness sunrise on one of five mornings from Dec. 18 to 23—are sold via a lottery. Go ahead and enter, but good luck. In 2011, there are 31,531 entries. Only 50 people total win (though each can bring one guest), with only ten (plus guest) allowed in the chamber each morning.

For more Neolithic fun just a mile from Newgrange, sign up for a tour that also included the ongoing excavations at the collection of grassy mound tombs known as Knowth, a site inhabited from roughly 3000 BC to AD 1200. Knowth is open only Easter through October.

A tomb with no tour
Nearby is one last prehisotric tomb—one blessedly unencumbered by tour buses and official guided visits—Dowth (

Sadly, the only way to visit Newgrange or Knwoth anymore is to drive to the Brú Na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Built for some reason on the south side of the Boyne River (all the tombs are on the north side) outside the village of Donore, this modern semi-museum includes a reproduction of the tomb interior you can peruse at your leisure while you await your guided bus tour of the entire valley (book ahead; tours can sell out a day or more in advance).

Tours leave regularly from 9am to 5pm daily May through September (last tour at 4:30pm in May and late September), 9:30am to 3:30pm February through April, and 9am to 3pm November through January. You can get a tour of either Newgrange or Knowth (2 hours, €5–€6), or of both (3 hours, €11). The visitors center closes two hours after the last tour departs.


Located six miles northwest of Drogheda in Co. Louth are the remains of the monastery Monasterboice (tel. +353-(0)41/987-2843;, now represented mainly by its quiet, monumental cemetery.

This graveyard is filled with Celtic high crosses, including the best preserved in Ireland, Muiredeach's High Cross, a 17-foot-tall example from a.d. 922 (look at the beautifully preserved "Taking of Christ" panel just above the base). Its open 24 hours, year-round, and admission is free.

Mellifont Abbey

Nearby in Tullyallen are the ruins of Mellifont Abbey (tel. +353-(0)41/982-6459;, a 12th-century religious community of which little remains other than a stretch of colonnade and part of a pretty octagonal lavabo (ca. 1200). It's open mid-May to mis-September; admission is €3.

Where to stay in the Drogheda area

You can stay in Drogheda at the modern Westcourt Hotel (tel. +353-(0)41/983-0965; on West Street for €61.50 per double (rack rates: €69).

If you want to stay in the valley itself near to the visitor center, try the Newgrange Lodge (tel. +353-(0)41-/988-2478;, a restored farmhouse in Donore where doubles start at just €46 online (€64 rack).

For food, check out the pub grub at Weavers (tel. 041/32-816) on Dominick Street; to sit down for a more complete meal, try the pricey French cuisine at the Buttergate Restaurant (tel. 041/37-407) on Millimount Square.


Unfortunately, the tourist office (tel. 041/37-070) here is open June through August only, so for information you may have to visit the regional office (tel. 042/35-484) on Jocelyn Street in the city of Dundalk, farther up the road.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in September 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.