Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Entrance to the south chamber of Dowth.
Entrance to the south chamber, home of the sun at sunset on the winter solstice, and visited by full moons around midsummer every year.


Dubad Dubad, whence the name? Not hard to say. A king held sway over Erin, Bressal Bo-Dibad by name. In his time a murrain came upon the kine of Erin, until there was left in it but seven cows and a bull. All the men of Erin were gathered from every quarter to Bressal, to build them a tower after the likeness of the Tower of Nimrod, that they might go by it to heaven. His sister came to him and said she would stay the sun's course in the vault of heaven so that they might have an endless day to accomplish their task.

The maiden went apart to work her magic, Bressal followed her and had union with her; so that place is called Ferta Cuile from the incest that was committed there. Night came upon them then, for the maiden's magic was spoilt. 'Let us go hence', say the men of Erin, for we only pledged ourselves to spend one day a-making this hill, and since darkness has fallen upon our work, and night has come on and the day is done, let each depart to his place'. Dubad (darkness) shall be the name of this place for ever', said the maiden. So hence are Dubad and Cnoc Dubada name. (Gwynn 1924, 271).

Dowth is an anglicization of the Irish Dubad, just as Knowth derives from Cnogba. The name Newgrange, however, owes nothing to the native language. In the fourteenth century the surrounding land became one of the outlying farms or granges of the monastery of Mellifont and in due course the monument took the name of the locality, New Grange, rather than its traditional one of An Brug (the bru or mansion) by which it is known in the early literature (C. O'Kelly 1978, 74-6).

There is a legend told of an old piper, who entered this vast monument about a century ago, with a party of young men and women, on an exploring excursion. I suppose "Darby the Blast" was a bit of a virtuoso. Well, 'twas a fine summer's morning in the month of July, and Darby entered first playing his most sprightly tune, "the humours of Glynn" with variations. But poor Darby and his friends were doomed never to return, but the people heard from them, for the old piper was heard busily playing under ground at Stanleon, a hill on the opposite side of the river.- Probably that was Darby's last tune, for from that day to this he has never been heard of.


The oldest traditions associate the Boyne monuments with the spirits of the Other world, the Tuatha De Danann (people of the goddess Danu), a god-like race who were said to have inhabited Ireland before the coming of the Gael or Celts. Their god-king was the Dagda and he was said to have built the mound of Newgrange, the Bru for himself and his three sons. He stole Boann (the River Boyne) from her rightful husband, Elcmar, and married her himself. Elcmar's shepherd was named Boadan and Dubad or Dowth was said to be the grave of Boadan (Fert Boadain).

Another reference to Dowth is found in the great compendium of place-lore known as the Dindshenchas which seeks to explain in prose and verse how various well-known places got their names. This tale is not as familiar as those relating to the Bru and other famous sites and in the absence of more specific information about how and why the mound of Dowth was built, let us substitute the above account from the Dindshenchas in the Book of Leinster, a compilation of about AD 1160.

The Tower of Babel.
The Tower of Babel.

Dowth is mentioned several times in the annals. The Annals of Ulster, 862 recorded that:

'The cave [uam] of Achadh Aidai and of Cnodhba [Knowth], and the cave of Fert Boadan over Dubadh [Dowth], and the cave of the smith's wife, were searched by the Foreigners [the Norse] which had not been done before . . .' (trans. Hennessy 1887, 373).

The great mound features in the Ulster Cycle myth, where Cuchulainn, on the day he recieves his weapons and chariot, comes to Dowth and fights a giant, the first of three brothers at a ford over the river, and brought their three heads back to Ulster as trophies. Cuchulainn, son of Lugh, was concieved at Newgrange close by; perhaps the story represents him bringing the wisdom of the three mounds back with him in the three heads.

The Irish name for Dowth is Dubad, which means 'Darkness'. In the mythology of the Boyne Valley, Dowth was the Brú of the Druid Bresal, who was attempting to build a great tower which could reach up to the heavens. Bresal employed all the men of Ireland to build the tower in a single day, and to this end his sister cast an enchantment that the sun will not set until the tower was complete, a reference to the solstice sun setting in the south chamber.

A photo of the mound of Dowth from the 1960's.
A photo of the mound of Dowth from the 1960's. Taken from Newgrange, the book by Michael O'Kelly.

However, her brother was overcome with lust and commited incest with her, breaking the enchantment and causing the sun to set before the tower is built. 'Night has come upon us', lamented his sister, 'and Dubad shall be the name of this place forever'. Strangely enough, in June of 2020 it was discovered that a man buried in the chamber at Newgrange was born of incestuous union 

This mythological origin of the name fits the cairn as both the internal passages are oriented to sunsets, one to Samhain when the sun 'dies' for the year as it goes underground, the other to the longest night of the year, the winter solstice sunset.

The great sycamore and a line of kerbstones
      on the south side of the great mound.
The great sycamore and a line of kerbstones on the south side of the great mound. Fifteen of the kerbstones have art on them, while others are still buried, especially around the north side of the mound.