Rún na Bóinne: Evidence of a possible second chamber uncovered at Newgrange

Television review: Parts of the documentary remind us of the sheer strangeness of Irish folklore

If Indiana Jones has taught us anything, it is that archaeology is glamorous and exciting – a riot of ancient mysteries, forbidden knowledge and epic cliffhangers. Alas, the only cliffhanger throughout Rún na Bóinne (TG4, Wednesday, 9.30pm) is: might this documentary eventually spark to life? The answer is sadly in the negative – and while the film does a thorough and professional job recapping the latest discoveries at the Newgrange Neolithic passage tomb in Meath, as pre-Christmas entertainment, it’s more Indiana Jonezzzz than Raiders of the Last Ark.

Newgrange is a hugely important site. On its own, however, that fact does not translate into riveting telly. Rún na Bóinne cries out for a spark of showbiz derring-do to bring the subject to life. Bear in mind that the famed structure at its heart dates from an era of warriors, druids and ancient kings. Yet this plodding approach takes our interest in archaeology for granted and makes no attempt to sell Newgrange to the viewer.

That isn’t to suggest it should have been spruced out with recreations of druidic orgies or half-naked warriors daubed in body-paint – merely to point out that the film needs to do more than lay out the facts as if we were students taking notes in a lecture theatre.

It’s a shame it doesn’t tell the tale in a more engaging fashion, as there is a real mystery swirling about here. Archaeologists have already uncovered one chamber at Newgrange. Might there be another wonders journalist and folklorist, Seán Mac an tSíthigh? “A second chamber could be hidden within the cairn,” he says. “It would be the greatest discovery for 50 years.”


We are introduced to geophysicists from Ireland and Slovakia as they set up their equipment and prepare for a “microgravity survey and geo-radar scan”. What do they find? Ah, that would give it away.

First, there is a potted history of Newgrange and a wider survey of Neolithic tombs and standing stones around Ireland. Mac an tSíthigh introduces us to Martin Brennan, the late Irish American author and researcher who became convinced Newgrange was constructed to mark winter and summer solstices (archaeologists have to date uncovered only a chamber pertaining to winter).

Better yet, is a contribution from Celtic studies expert Christina Cleary, who relays the chilling tale of the Daghda, one of the supernatural Tuatha Dé Danann, who ruled over Rún na Bóinne, where Newgrange is located. This is exotic, heady stuff – and reminds us of the sheer strangeness of Irish folklore.

In the end, the researchers uncover evidence of a possible second chamber. But it’s really just an extrapolation as they’re scanning from the outside. So, after all, that, we don’t get a glimpse of the interior. It’s a damp-squib conclusion to an underwhelming documentary which, arriving on solstice, promises the sun and the moon only to remains glumly earthbound.