Irish Sun Temples Older Than The Pyramids

North of Dublin is the Boinne Valley, where hundreds of Stone-Age structures are preserved, none with any explanations remaining  No hieroglyphic or other writing to decipher.  “Stone Age” conjures up Fred Flintstone, but these are the people who moved the giant pillars of Stonehenge and created the Passage-Burial Temples like the one shown below.  No writing yet, and no metal tools, but great social and mechanical engineering!

Perfectly round, the Passage Temples feature a passageway to a central room with a domed ceiling which has not leaked in 4500 years.  By contrast, we recently replaced a 22 year-old roof on our South Minneapolis house.  I think I still believe in human progress, but…


In the artist’s rendering, you can see hints of the large stones on which the domed structures rest.  In the photo below, from Knowth (rhymes with south), you may be able to see designs on the large wall-stones.  There are 96 on this particular Passage Temple, and each has a different design, whether waves, spirals, zigzags, or something else.


Similar petroglyphs have been found all over the world, and one is tempted to jump to the conclusion that there was some generic Stone Age Religion from which the whole tree of the world’s religions has grown.  But beyond a sense of reverence for the remains of the dead, and knowledge of the cycles of the sun and moon, we can’t infer much.  The people who chipped these lines with flint or maybe antler points may or may not have believed in a spirit world or eternal life.  They might have revered the Sun as a God, or merely thought that having a shaft of light illuminate the central room for just seventeen minutes, at sunrise, at midwinter, was REALLY COOL.  Perhaps the Buddha was right in using the metaphor nirvana for the Sacred.  The word means, literally, “cool.”  The photo below gives you an idea of how big the Knowth Passage Temple is, and also shows you a pile of white quartz rocks brought from at least 100 miles south in the Wicklow Mountains.   Who knows what statement the builders wanted to make, but the brilliant color is also very cool to look at.


We visited the largest of the Passage Temples at Newgrange.  This one is 4500 years old, at least 500 years older than the pyramids in Egypt, and includes the sunshaft I just mentioned.  Below is a photo from maybe 300 yards away, with a ceremonial hearth in the foreground.  The south temple wall was faced with the same white quartz.


And here is a close up of the (reconstructed) front wall of the Newgrange Temple.  The archaeologist spent several years building different models with the white and black stones his team found sitting under tons of earth and sod.  They built and then slowly pushed over the various models to figure out where the stones once stood before thousands of years of earth slumping inexorably down the slope.  From a mile downhill, on the bank of the Boinne River, it’s an imposing sight.  The guide is telling us that no one knows what the swirls mean.  The sun-shaft is over the doorway where the blond woman is waiting for her family to emerge from the passage.


Here’s yet another photo of the colorfulness of Ireland.  It’s the block of toilets and showers at our campground in Slane.  Once upon a time, they were animal stalls in the adjoining barn.


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I am the Upper School Chaplain at Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota, USA., an Episcopal priest, and the author of the world religions text "Tree of World Religions," available on I've also done two lessons for TED-Ed.

5 thoughts on “Irish Sun Temples Older Than The Pyramids”

    1. Phil: As you are one of my most faithful readers, I am so happy to be writing about and photographing something you didn’t now about! Lynnell is off to the sheepdog-herding-the-sheep competitions and I am catching up on stuff “around the house”. Shabbat shalom, my friend.


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