Dowth Passage Tombs
At a Glance
County Meath
OS Map 43
OS Coordinate O 023 737
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Dowth Passage Tomb, Co. Meath

The Art

Dowth Castle

Location: From Droheda, take N 51 west. Cross over the motorway. About 3.5 km outside of Droheda, the road runs directly beside the Boyne River. As the river diverges from the road, take the first road on the left. This is a narrow road and it makes three 90 degree bends before coming to a long straight stretch. Dowth is approximately 2.5 to 3 km down this road on the left, just past the very Victorian-looking Netterville House and Dowth Castle.

Dimensions: This monument comprises a kerbed mound 85 meters in diameter and approximately 15 meters in height. The tumulus covers two passage tombs opening onto its west side. The north tomb is 12.5 meters long and of cruciform shape with a corbelled ceiling approximately 3 meters high. An annex with two chambers opens from the south recess. A stone basin lies in the center of this chamber. The South tomb is 8.25 meters long. The short passage leads to a roughly circular chamber with a single recess opening off its southeast side. It's roof, long since collapsed, has been replaced with a concrete version. Several exposed kerbstones and some structural stones in both tombs bear megalithic art comprised of spirals, chevrons, lozenges and rayed circles. The internal passages are oriented to sunsets, one to Samhain when the sun 'dies' for the year as it goes underground, the other the longest night of the year, the winter solstice sunset. There is a 23 meter long Early Christian souterrain which crosses to left and right of the main entrance, leading to a series of chambers with a corbelled beehive chamber at either end. The mound is accessed by a drop hole, enclosed by an iron cage with a ladder down to the level of the passage, now locked. The kerb is covered by mound slip in many places, and the original entrance to the North chamber is buried in the adjoining field to the west which is private property.

Features: Of the three major passage tombs in the "Bend of the Boyne", Dowth has not been excavated in recent history and remains in a rather dilapidated condition. Within the last two years, a crude but effective fence has been erected around the most decorated kerbstones, limiting close access to the carvings on them. Dowth can be recognized in pictures and from a distance by the prominent tree on the west side of the mound.

Comments: The mound at Dowth has been open to the public off and on for a number of years. As of 2004 & still in 2006, there is free access to the site. It was bought by the state in 1998. While the carving on the kerbstones is far more crudely rendered than at Newgrange and particularly Knowth, it is interesting to examine them up close. Some of the pecked designs are a nice attempt at true design and other pecked carving looks like primitive graffiti. In the collapsed area toward the center of the top of the mound, visitors have taken some of the loose cairn material and contructed stone circles and small rock structures.

History: This site has suffered generations of abuse with the original mound being deformed by the stone having been taken for road-making and building materials. The Annals of Tighernach tell of Dowth being plundered and burnt in 1059, with a record in the Annals of the Four Masters of three great early battles at Dowth, and a later burning in 1170. In the late 18th century, a teahouse was built on the summit of the mound by the sixth Viscount, Sir John Netterville, hereditary owner of Dowth Castle. The story goes that from this great height, he could attend a nearby church in comfort via telescope. A large crater was dug in the top of the mound in 1847. Local historians tell of some overzealous treasure hunters "excavating" with dynamite. This seems almost likely, as from the top of the mound, an entire section appears almost like a collapsed volcano, exposing the cairn material throughout.

Other Items of Interest: While entry into the passages is difficult to attain, several of the exposed kerbstones on the on the eastern side of the mound bear some interesting pecked art, of which kerbstone 51, also known by some as "The Stone of the Seven Suns" is the most well known.

  © 2005 F.J. & K.D. Schorr - All rights reserved.