Megalithic and Medieval Ireland


Tuesday 17 – Friday 20 April 2018

The sacred landscape of the Boyne Valley north of Dublin constitutes the core of Megalithic Ireland. Long before Babylon or Dynastic Egypt, long before Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a thousand years and more before Stonehenge, a technologically advanced society settled amidst the fertile plains and hills carved by the fast flowing River Boyne. It was from here that the High Kings of Ireland ruled the country. At Newgrange, in the heart of the region, we find archaeological remains of one of the world’s best-preserved prototypical ‘cities’. Evidence of their societal complexity can be seen in one of the world’s oldest ‘buildings’: a massive heart shaped-cairn, a heap of water-rolled stone set in a 90 meter diameter with a ring of 97 large kerbstones around the base. At sunrise on the winter solstice a beam of sunlight enters through a small hole flooding its inner chamber with light. Its age is indicated by a hand-chiselled tri-spiral design on the entrance stone, probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. Though often referred to as ‘Celtic’, it was actually carved at least 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland. A complex of structures no longer visible but indicated through aerial photography, as well as those still standing -the megalithic passage tombs of Knowth and Dowth- reveal a large site of enormous astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance. Small, scattered family groups were drawn there to live near sacred burial sites just as later cities grew up around Christian cathedrals, monasteries and cemeteries all across the British Isles.

We visit Loughcrew Cairns where precisely at equinox, when day and night are of equal length, a beam of sunlight penetrates the chamber before moving across a series of astronomical symbols inscribed on a large stone. To the south rises the Hill of Tara documented in the 11c as the Seat of the High Kings of Tara from Fir Bolg onwards with its Lia Fail, the stone of destiny, the inauguration stone of the Kings of Tara. Finally to the west is the town, or early city, of Kells with many of its architectural remains dating back to the time of St Columba in the 6c. A few miles away at Monasterboice are the finest early Christian crosses in all of Ireland- Muirdeach’s Cross and the West Cross- the tallest in Ireland. We have invited the archaeological researcher, Dr Robert Hensey from Ireland’s Office of Public Works, to lecture at the hotel as well as on site. We will be in one of the most appropriate and stunning places in the world at which to begin our in-depth examination of cities as what made possible the union of art, technology and organised thought, ‘Cities in Civilisation, Crucibles of Culture.