ARCHAEOLOGIST Claire O’Kelly who died on October 23 aged 88, was one of the great driving forces, with her late husband Michael (Brian) O’Kelly in the great excavation in 1962 of the Newgrange tumulus.
She also carried out extensive research on two important aspects of the monument: the Megalithic art and the literary and antiquarian references to the site.
Long before the invention of modern technology, she undertook pioneering research into the decorated stones around Newgrange, often in all weathers and by tracing the motifs at actual size from the enormous orthostats, recording a level of detail that would do more justice to the subject than a camera.
She had a lifelong interest in Irish language and literature and this led her to research the references to Bru na Boinne in early Irish literature and to reaffirm its identification at Newgrange.
Her research into these older traditions prompted her to encourage her husband to investigate the persistent references to Newgrange and the sun, and this led to the subsequent discovery in 1967 of the phenomenon of the winter solstice, which was documented in their book Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend (1982).
She wryly commented on the inconvenience of being left without the family car with all the Christmas preparations to do, as Brian made his annual pilgrimages 200 miles north to observe the Newgrange solstice.
Other important published areas of research included a detailed, and as yet unsurpassed, study of Dowth, the third of the three great Boyne monuments, which was the fruit of many cold and damp hours inside the tomb, working only by candles and lanterns.
Years before anyone thought that Newgrange and the Boyne Valley would become some of Ireland’s leading tourist attractions, she saw the need for reading material for the intelligent layperson. Her guide books to Newgrange and to Lough Gur, Co.Limerick were among the first to be written for Irish archaeological sites.
When Brian died in 1982, leaving behind the manuscript of the book that was to become the standard text, Early Ireland, An Introduction to Irish Prehistory, she embarked on the major task of preparing it for publication. It appeared in 1989.
She is survived by her daughters Helen, Ann and Eve.
From the Drogheda Leader Newspaper