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Pictures from Dowth's solstice-aligned southern passage

There are two known passages at the Dowth mound - both of which are located on the western side of the site. The short passage and circular chamber of Dowth south are stark in contrast to the long, narrow cruciform passages of Newgrange and Knowth.

Plan of Dowth's southern passage and chamber

But the southernmost passage at Dowth shares a common purpose with the Newgrange and Knowth passages - it also marks a significant astronomical and calendrical event. Every year at the Winter Solstice, the rising sun penetrates the long winding passageway at Newgrange and illuminates the floor of the central chamber.

On the evening of the same day, Winter Solstice, the chamber of Dowth south is beautifully illuminated by the setting sun. Mythical Ireland has had rare opportunities to gain access to the interior of Dowth south and photograph this remarkable astronomical clock, still working 5,000 years after its construction.

Dowth south illuminated by warm sunlight


A striking feature of Dowth's southern chamber is its circular shape, and its single recess. Passages at Newgrange and Knowth east are cruciform, as is the northern passage here at Dowth. The circular plan brings to mind Fourknocks, but even this site retains a cruciform shape with its three recesses. The photo on left shows the chamber illuminated by natural light from outside.

Zig-zags on a chamber stone


There is plenty of decoration in Dowth South, most notably on three of the chamber stones and in the recess. It is these chamber stones, and the central one in particular, which receive the beam of sunlight during the time of Winter Solstice. During an 'exploration' of Dowth in 1847 by the Royal Irish Academy, a quantity of bones were found in the chamber, 'mixed with the clay and dust which had accumulated' according to George Coffey (1912).

Chamber stone carvings

Lovely art work on the recess stone

A sunwheel and leaf pattern on the recess stone

George Coffey's ship-figure on the recess lintel


Dowth south's single recess, located at right angles to the passage, seems strange at first. But it actually has a very unique significance to the Winter Solstice illumination.

Normally the recess is pitch dark, and one needs a torch to see anything while inside. But around the time of Winter Solstice, when the sunlight penetrates the passage into the main chamber, an amazing event occurs, which eyewitnesses have claimed was intentional on the part of the builders.

As the sunlight strikes the central chamber stones and bathes the whole scene in warm light, the glow is reflected into the recess, and it becomes noticably bright. Bright enough, in fact, for the carvings on the right-hand recess stone to be seen quite clearly.


The recess carvings are shown in the top two photographs on the left. The top photo shows a series of circles, along with a large double concentric circle as well as a medium-sized spiral, which are carved along the top of the face of this stone (C12). The middle photo shows a stellar symbol, or a 'sunwheel', along with a leaf pattern. These appear on the bottom part of the stone, and the whole surface around these carvings has been heavily picked, as the photo shows.

The sunwheel brings to mind the patterns on Kerbstone 51, the 'Stone of the Seven Suns'.

The last photo in the above sequence shows some engravings in the lintel stone above the recess entrance. George Coffey, in a visit to Dowth in the autumn of 1896, discovered these markings and said they were a 'typical example of the ship-figure so frequently found on rock surfaces in Scandinavia'. Although the photo does not show the full extent of the carvings, part of which are covered by a more modern electric light fitting!!, many have contested that this design, along with one at Newgrange, do not resemble a ship plan at all.

Cup marks

Cup marks on a stone in the recess at Dowth South. This stone (C10) faces C12 which contains the beautiful sunwheel and other art shown above.

The recess of Dowth South

A general view of the recess of Dowth South. Stones shown are C10 (left), C11 (straight ahead at end of recess) and C12 (right).

Similar pages:

Dowth North - this passage, with its astronomical symbolism, may have been aligned on cross-quarter day sunsets.
Knowth West - spectacularly decorated passage.
Knowth equinox - photos of sunlight entering Knowth West.
Solstice 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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