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Established 16/3/2000

Inside Dowth North - The oldest cruciform passage

The heavily decorated chamberstone 19


The chamber of Dowth North is an eerie place to be. Hidden from daylight, and sunken into the ground, it is cold, dark and claustrophobic. The modern electrical lights do not work, the chamber is currently only accessible through a 70-foot souterrain, and the passage orthostats lean together such that when you walk up the passage, you have to squeeze through the stones. It's a strange experience, to say the least. But Dowth North could be the oldest cruciform passage in the Brugh na Bóinne area, so it is well worth a visit.

When he visited Dowth in the late 1890s, antiquarian George Coffey said the construction of this chamber was somewhat similar to Newgrange, but in the case of Dowth North, 'the roofing-flags are not corbelled, and, in general, less architectural enterprise is shown.' The plan of the chamber, as at Newgrange, is cruciform, but smaller, measuring 11 feet high, and about nine feet in diameter.

The passage is 27 feet long, and the entrance has been reconstructed in more modern times, so it is impossible to say what the original length of the passage was. It may have been roughly twice its current length, given the fact that the kerb of stones on this side of the Dowth mound is located in the next field.
Plan of Dowth North

The entrance to the neolithic passage
The entrance to the Neolithic passage.
Looking out of the chamber into the passage
A view of the passage at Dowth north, looking out from the chamber.


There are structures at Dowth North, which are joined together, but which are separated in date of construction by approximately 4,000 years. The Neolithic passage and chamber seem to be older in date than Newgrange, and possibly Knowth, due to the fact that the passage at Newgrange is more advanced, with water drainage techniques incorporated into its roof structure which were not found at Knowth.

But the souterrain, which is a 'microlithic' construction of much smaller stones, probably dates to the latter part of the first century AD, and was built into the mound at Dowth, with its entrance located some 25 metres or so from its terminus near the earlier neolithic passage. A plan of the souterrain is shown below.

Plan of souterrain


The interior of Dowth North seems to carry on the astronomical theme present on some of the great kerbstones outside the mound. The chamberstone C7 is particularly well decorated, featuring a number of stellar symbols, concentric circles, a small spiral, linear markings and other features such as small inverted V shapes.

Martin Brennan had suggested that Dowth North may have been oriented towards sunset on the February and November cross-quarter days, but evidence from surveying carried out by archaeologists confirms that this passage was, quite probably, aligned on the Minor Standstill setting Moon back in the Neolithic. See this page for more details.

The astronomical theme was also picked up by George Coffey a century ago. Coffey noticed that many of the star/sun symbols at Dowth were repeated at Newgrange and Loughcrew. His drawing of some examples is shown below. It's a pity he could not have lived to see the great lunar symbolism so widespread on the stones at Knowth.

Star symbol on C7

The basin in Dowth North

A star symbol (top) and large basin (above).

Coffey's stellar symbols drawing

Chamberstone C19 and its art


Although Dowth North does not have the same amount of art as the passages at Knowth, there are still a number of stones which are decorated. The most noticable of these is the spectacularly decorated chamberstone, C19, which is decorated with spirals, serpentine shapes, circles and other features, and features designs on both its front face, and its side face.

George Coffey's drawings of this stone are presented below, along with his drawings of the various examples of art, including the star symbols, on chamberstone C7.

Coffey's chamberstone drawings
Coffey's drawings of chamberstones. The central drawing is of C19 (photographed above).

Coffey's C7 drawings
Coffey's drawing of the art features on chamberstone 7. The central image is photographed above.

Similar pages:

Minor Standstill - was Dowth North aligned on the setting moon?
Dowth South
- circular chamber with its passage aligned on Winter Solstice.
Knowth West - spectacularly decorated passage.
Knowth equinox - photos of sunlight entering Knowth West.
Newgrange Light - Winter Solstice sunrise, photos from inside Newgrange.

Back to the Dowth page

All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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