Newgrange – the archaeological evidence

Sir, – As four practising archaeologists privileged to have been taught at UCC by Prof Michael J O'Kelly, we must take issue with remarks attributed to Michael Gibbons by your correspondent Lorna Siggins in The Irish Times of December 21st, the date on which the rising sun shines through the roof box at Newgrange ("Newgrange sun trap may be only 50 years old, says archaeologist", December 21st).

First, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest the Prof O’Kelly “fabricated” the roof box with its decorated lintel as it has been visible and recorded photographically since at least the 1930s.

Second, local oral tradition was well acquainted with a solar phenomenon occurring at the site at this time of year. Orientation on particular astronomical events is a very well-known feature of Irish megalithic monuments, in particular, passage tombs such as Newgrange, Dowth, Knockroe and Loughcrew, to name but a few. The roof box at Newgrange is, so far as is known, unique to that site. The structure of the roof box was exposed during the O’Kelly excavation. This is recorded meticulously in the site drawings and photographic archive held by the National Monuments Service.

To suggest that “it has not a shred of authenticity” and is somehow a “construct” or figment of Prof O’Kelly’s imagination is nonsense.


It is also the case that both MJ and Claire O’Kelly were fully aware of the later Iron Age activity on the site and, in fact, may be credited with bringing this important aspect of Newgrange to public attention through their many publications.

More recent research has placed their original observations in the wider context of Roman activity in Ireland during that period.

It is important that the public should not be misled about the significance of perhaps the best-known archaeological monument in Ireland.

Newgrange is a monument of great complexity and, while much remains to be learned about its role through time, there is a considerable body of factual information, properly attested through archaeological and astronomical research that cannot and should not be denied. – Yours, etc,


Keeper of Irish Antiquities,

National Museum of Ireland;


Chief Archaeologist,

National Monuments




Head of School

of Archaeology,

University College Cork;



Former Senior Lecturer,

University College Cork.