Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
An old photo of the designs in the left recess of the chamber of Newgrange.
An extremely old photo of the designs in the left recess of the chamber of Newgrange. The concrete pillar was removed during the modern excavation and restoration.

The chamber at Newgrange

The interior of Newgrange is an absolutely wonderful piece of architecture and engineering. As the passage approaches the chamber the roofing corbels rise above the ortohstats up to meet the chamber ceiling. The lofty corbelled vault of the chamber rises to a neat capstone 6 meters or 18 feet above the floor, making almost a true arch.

The chamber is cruciform or cross-shaped, a layout favoured by the Irish with the right-hand recess being much larger than the other two. From recess to recess, the chamber is 6 meters wide, and 6 meters from the chamber entrance to the rear recess and 6 meters is also the height from floor to capstone.

An early photograph of the chamber of Newgrange.
An early photograph of the large right-hand recess in chamber of Newgrange. The granite basin has been replaced on the larger basin where it was originally found. The concrete pillar was added around 1890.

The chamber is built with large, upright orthostats which were placed into sockets and packed in with small stones. The passage and chamber would have been constructed in this way. Above the orthostats were added corbels, large flat slabs of stone used much the same way as slates are today.

The corbels were added course by course, tilted at an angle to allow the rain to run off using smaller packing stones called 'spalls' to increase the angle of the corbel. Some of the corbels had grooves carved on their upper surfaces over the passage to drain water away from the chamber.

Though many of the corbels are cracked, O'Kelly did not attempt to move any stones or fix the vault, as he doubted that they would have had the skill to rebuild it.

The corbels are arranged in a circular overlapping fashion, and are tilted up using the smaller spall stones, which means the damp runs off on the outside and keepins the chamber dry. Many of the corbel edges are engraved.

Graffiti within the chamber of Newgrange.
Graffiti within the chamber of Newgrange. Image from an early glass slide.

Left: the two basins in the right hand recess. At some stage, the top basin, which is made from Mourne granite, was in the centre of the chamber. Right: many visitors to Newgrange have felt compelled to leave their mark. This picture shows the fern/feather engraving by the left-hand recess. This symbol may represent the herb of rejuvenation, which is found in Sumarian mythology.

There are four basins in the chamber, one in each recess and two in the right-hand recess. Some researchers believe the second basin was originaly in the centre of the chamber, as is the case in Dowth north. The upper basin is a fine piece, carved out of a hunk of mourne granite and well finished.

It is oval shaped and has two round depressions at one end. The basin in the rear recess was smashed by a visitor from Connaught in 1795; he dreamed that there was gold buried under it, and came to Newgrange to see if he could make his dream come through. Ideas vary greatly as to what the basins may have been used for.

The passage at Newgrange Ilustrated by William Wakeman.
The passage at Newgrange Ilustrated by William Wakeman.

Tours at Newgrange today usually have 20 to 25 people in each group, and the chamber can easily accomodate so many bodies, though it can feel a bit crushed. A visitor gets to spend about 20 minutes in the chamber, and the guide turns off the lights and gives a simulation of the solstice sunbeam in the chamber.

An illustration of the Newgrange sunbeam by Martin Brennan.
An illustration of the Newgrange sunbeam by Martin Brennan.

There is some fine art to be found in the chamber. The well-known triple spiral is on the right-hand side of the end recess. There is a fine panel of art on the ceiling of the right-hand recess (below). There is a large spiral, a few smaller examples, the 'boat' engraving, and the fern-leaf pattern all found in and around the left-hand recess. There is also a fine selection of graffiti, including a fine Freemason's symbol within the chamber, which will one day be worthy of a study of its own.

Early photograph of the complex panel of engravings, a masterpiece of neolithic art on the ceiling of the right-hand recess within the chamber of Newgrange.