The first modern dig at Newgrange took place in 1699, shortly after the Battle
of the Boyne, when the new landowner Charles Campbell, making improvements to his farm, set laborours to
quarrying stone from the great mound on the hill. The area where they began digging
was close to the entrance and they soon uncovered the Roofbox and the Entrance Stone.
Edward Lhwyd was the first antiquarians to visit and describe the mound, during
his tour of Ireland in 1699. He was lucky enough to pass by just after
the entrance had been discovered. During the next 200 years the site had
many visitors, as can be seen from the quantity of graffiti they left
The site came into state care in 1882, and some restoration
work, including the addition of the iron gate and the cleaning of the
entrance area, was carried out in 1890.
A. F. Macalister did some excavations at Knowth in 1940 and Newgrange in 1943. He began digging at the Entrance stone,
and working clockwise exposed 54 kerbstones that had been buried under
cairn-slip. I have added a page with his 'Penny Guide to Newgrange', to
read it click here.
M. J. O'Kelly began work at Newgrange in 1962 and excavated every summer
for a season of 4 months until 1975, and his work gave us the Newgrange
we have today. The scrub and bush was removed from the mound, and a series
of detailed plans and drawings were made. They began by making cuttings
into the body of the mound, and found that it had been built in carefully
built up in layers composed of turves, clay, water-rolled boulders and
Over thirteen years of excavation and restoration, four main areas were examined:
the cairn-slip, the cairn, the passage and chamber, and the circle of
standing stones. The results are published in O'Kelly's book, Newgrange
Archaeology, art and legend, a very good read. The mound was dated to
about 3,200 BC from charcoal in the caulking of sand and burnt clay used
to seal the roof corbels against damp.
the excavations progressed, they began to repair and restore the mound.
O'Kelly examined the way the cairn had slipped, and after a series of
experiments decided to restore the mound with a verticle wall. However, it is impossible that such a wall could have stood
for long in the neolithic without the reinforcing concrete and steel.
Indeed, recent research has suggested that O'Kelly's ideas about the collapsing wall suggest that the mound should have been restored to a shape similar to Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea in County Sligo.
In the last few years, more questions have been raised as to the nature of the reconstruction, in particular in relation to the dismantling and reconstruction of the Roofbox structure. It seems that stones were removed and that the structure was raised to bring it into alignment with the horizon.
The passage was uncovered and the orthostats which were leaning were straightened.
The passage and chamber were covered with a structure of mass concrete. The completed site was opened to the public in 1975, and is now one of
the largest tourist attractions in Ireland.
In the 1990 problems were caused by the reconstruction techniques. Drainage holes left in the concrete wall had silted up, causing a build up of pressure to the rear of the mound as the water attempted to escape. The north-western portion of the mound began to collapse and restoration and conservation work was undertaken to reinforce that side of the mound with gabions and concrete. Evidence uncovered during those excavations show it is unlikely that such a steep wall ever fronted Newgrange.