Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Four Iron age slab-lined graves near the enterance to the west passage at Knowth.
Four Iron age slab-lined graves near the entrance to the west passage at Knowth. In the area surrounding the enterance there are several settings, round dish-shaped hollows, and a number of exotic stones, which are not native to the area. There were large amounts of quartz spread around in front of the entrance.

The West Passage

The west passage, which is roughly aligned to region of the equinox sunsets and full moon sets, is about 34 m long. Two large stones, one tall and thin, the other round and bulky, stand outside the entrance. These stones are similar in shape to a lot of the avenue stones at Avebury, where the thinner stone is thought to be male, and the rounder shaped stone female. Martin Brennan observed a shadow cast by the taller stone falling on the vertical groove on the entrance stone at sunset around the equinox, and George Eogan uses a slide of this shadow in his talks about Knowth.

The west entrance stone at Knowth.
The West Entrance stone at Knowth. Over the equinox sunsets, the standing stone casts a shadow, which lines up with the groove on the entrance stone.

The excavators found six oval 'settings' around the entrance, and an array of 'exotic' stones placed on the ground. The function of these settings is unknown. These interesting features have been spotted at other sites such as Cairn T at Loughcrew, Queen Maeve's Cairn at Knocknarea, and outside the entrance to Newgrange.

Since the chambers are designed for only a few people at a time, it is quite likely that there were public gatherings outside the entrances on the equinoxes and other festivals.

There are areas of cobbling and stone paving outside both entrances. As at the east entrance, there is plenty of quartz chunks scattered around the area near the entrance.

Basin stone, Knowth.
A displaced basin lies at the bend of Knowth west. The edges of the basin are all chipped and smashed, as if someone tried to remove it in the past and became frustrated. Photo © Padraig Conway.

As with the eastern entrance, the area at the beginning of the passage was destroyed when a ditch was dug during the Iron age, and several of the passage orthostats were thrown out, some to be re-used in souterrains. Three engraved stones, thought to be from near the entrance of the west passage, were discovered by the excavators in the late 1990's.

Carved stone in Knowth.
The Owlman of Knowth. Photo © Padraig Conway.

The passage runs straight east into the cairn for 25 m before bending slightly to the right near a large carved stone, sill and stone basin. The end of the passage opens into a large chamber marked by a sill stone engraved with a similar set of designs to the entrance stone, stone at the bend of the passage, and the end stone of the chamber.

The West side of Knowth.
The West side of Knowth.

The walls and ceiling are constructed of massive slabs, the ceiling being composed of a single huge stone. It has been postulated that the kink in the passage is the remains of an earlier structure which was incorporated into the larger mound. A similar, if much more complex 'kink' is found at Dowth north.

The end recess of the west passage at Knowth.
The end recess of the west passage at Knowth. There are many beautiful engravings on the stones here, and the designs on backstone and sillstone echo the patterns on the entrance stone. Photo © Padraig Conway.

A large decorated stone at the bend in the passage is considered by some to represent a human face, perhaps a guardian of the chamber and passage. It has somewhat human features, but given that all the rest of the art is symbolic and abstract, it is more likely to represent an astronomical occurrence, such as a setting full moon illuminating the passageway near an equinox sunrise. Much of the rectangular style of art at Knowth may represent fast moving beams of light. A basin stone, which looks as if someone tried to remove it from the chamber in the past, was found near this strange engraved stone.

The north or left panel of the end recess at Knowth, west passage.
The north or left panel of the end recess at Knowth, west passage. This is one of the most unusual designs of Irish megalithic art. Photo © Padraig Conway.

At the end of the passage, the space widens to a 'bottle' shaped undifferentiated chamber covered by a massive roof flag. There are a number of beautiful engraved panels of art. The example above, the last orthostat to the left of the keystone, has an elaborate and unusual design where earlier symbols seem to have been picked over later with the symbol or structure with three arches. Again, as with other stones at Knowth there seems to be some red pigment on the stone that may well be ancient.

Knowth west at sunset
The elevated sun viewed from close to the entrance of the western passage at the equinox (23 rd September 2008, 18:50 UTC+1). For a short period of time, only the southern side of the outermost section of the passage is illuminated. By sunset at c. 19:20 UTC+1, the sun will have moved significantly to the north (right) in azimuth, decreased in altitude, and is no longer in alignment with the outer passage (Photo: F.Prendergast).

Again, as on the eastern side of the mound, access to the passage is restricted to researchers and is difficult to get. Anyone interested in viewing the art needs to make an appointment with the Office of Public Works.

The heavily decorated 
        stone at the bend in the west passage of Knowth.
The heavily decorated stone at the bend in the West Passage, which some think is a human face or guardian stone (right). This may be the original entrance to the older chamber, before the passage was extended. Photo © Padraig Conway.