The Dagda & Cosmology in the Early Stories of Brug Na Bóinne

The Dagda & Cosmology in the Early Stories of Brug Na Bóinne

Anthony Murphy examines the mythology of Dagda, the chief deity of the Tuatha Dé Danann and Brú na Bóinne, and looks at the cosmology of his story and how that might relate to an astronomical function for the great monument of Newgrange, which Dagda was said to have constructed.

As the supposed chief of the gods, Dagda occupies a supreme pedestal in the mythical story of Brug na Bóinne,[1] the megalithic complex of the Bend of the Boyne. However, despite his obvious prowess he is knocked off this pedestal and disappears into relative obscurity. He is said to have been responsible for building the great monument of Newgrange (Síd in Broga)[2] and for the allocation of the various mounds (sídhe) to the Dé Dananns.[3]

Behold the fairy mound before your eyes:
it is plain for you to see, it is a king’s dwelling,
it was built by the harsh Dagda:
it was a shelter, it was a keep renowned for strength.[4]

The cosmology of Dagda and the Boyne monuments is fascinating and indeed somewhat convoluted. The stories differ as to who it was that was actually deposed of ownership of Síd in Broga. The ancient stories of Newgrange include De Gabáil int Síde (‘The Taking of the Otherworld Mound’), Tochmarc Étaíne (‘The Wooing of Étain’) and Altram Tighe Dá Mheadar (‘The Fosterage of the house of the Two Drinking Vessels’). Of the three tales, only De Gabáil int Síde says that Dagda owned Síd in Broga, and was tricked out of ownership of the great monument by his famous son, Oengus Óg, the youthful son whose cosmology is closely tied with the swan constellation.[5] In the other tales (Tochmarc Étaíne and Altram Tighe Dá Mheadar), Elcmar, husband of Oengus’s mother Bóinn, owns Síd in Broga.[6]

There is a common thread in the three early tales. A supreme deity who is the owner of Síd in Broga, arguably the greatest of all the prehistoric monuments, is impeached or unseated from this position of ultimate authority. In one tale, this supreme deity is Dagda. In the other two, it is Elcmar. In all three, the surrogate is Oengus Óg. To further add to the confusion, in some versions Dagda sends Elcmar away on an errand, and casts a spell upon him. In his absence, Dagda slips into bed with Elcmar’s wife Bóinn and thus the child Oengus Óg is conceived.[7]

The power of the spell is such that Elcmar thinks he is only away for a single day, when in fact he has been away for nine months – conveniently the gestation time for a human baby. In this way, Dagda can be said not just to have some sort of influence over time, but indeed over the movement of the sun:

Thither came by chance the Dagda
into the house of famous Elcmaire:
he fell to importuning the woman:
he brought her to the birth in a single day. It was then they made the sun stand still
to the end of nine months – strange the tale –
warming the noble ether
in the roof of the perfect firmament.[8]

There is a similar story about Dowth, another of the three great chambered cairns of the Brú na Bóinne complex (along with Newgrange (Síd in Broga) and Knowth (Cnogba)).

The Dowth story, from the Dindshenchas, told how the king, Bresal, had brought the men of Ireland to build him a tower to reach heaven. The king’s sister cast a spell on the sun to make it stand still, so there would be endless day to allow the tower to be built.[9]

John Carey, an expert on Irish mythology and cosmology, makes an interesting observation in relation to these two accounts of cosmological magic at Brú na Bóinne: ‘I am aware of no Irish legends associating the control or construction of sacred sites with the manipulation of time other than those which concern the tumuli of the Boyne valley.’[10]

Newgrange (Síd in Broga) is famous for its winter solstice sunrise alignment.


‘It was then they made the sun stand still’. This is fascinating. Dagda and Bóinn are able to halt the sun in the sky. But what is actually happening here? Newgrange is famous around the world for its winter solstice alignment. On the shortest days of the year, the light of the rising sun enters the monument through a specially constructed aperture known as the ‘roof box’ and penetrates deep into the interior of the monument, where it illuminates the floor of the central cruciform chamber for a period of 17 minutes.

What happens on those days, centred on winter solstice, is that the sun’s rising position on the southeastern horizon appears to stop, i.e. to ‘stand still’, for a number of days. In fact, this is the very meaning of the word solstice – stationary sun.[11] Dagda, who is in many instances described as a sun god, enters into the house of Elcmar (Newgrange) and copulates with Bóinn, during which union they make the sun stand still, ‘warming the noble ether in the roof of the perfect firmament’.

The story about the construction of nearby Dowth has similar cosmological essences. The Dindshenchas relates how during the reign of the king, whose name is Bressal bó-dibad (meaning Bressal who lacks in cattle!) there was a cattle disease and only one bull and seven cows were left. Bressal brings ‘all the men of Erin’ to Dowth to build a tower ‘after the likeness of the Tower of Nimrod, that they might go by it to Heaven’.[12] Here’s the Dindshenchas account of what happened next:

His sister came to him, and told him that she would stay the sun’s course in the vault of heaven, so that they might have an endless day to accomplish their task. The maiden went apart to work her magic. Bressal followed her and had union with her: so that place is called Ferta Cuile from the incest that was committed there. Night came upon them then, for the maiden’s magic was spoilt. ‘Let us go hence,’ say the men of Erin, ‘for we only pledged ourselves to spend one day a-making this hill, and since darkness has fallen upon our work, and night has come on and the day is done, let each depart to his place.’ ‘Dubad (darkness) shall be the name of this place for ever,’ said the maiden. So hence are Dubad and Cnoc Dubada named.[13]

The cognate aspects of both stories can be summed up as follows: a powerful figure (Dagda, the chief god; Bressal, the king of Ireland) has illicit sexual relations (Dagda mates with Bóinn, who is Elcmar’s wife; Bressal commits incest with his sister) at a principal monument of the Brú na Bóinne complex (Newgrange; Dowth) and the sun is made to stand still.

One of the key differences is the mention in the Dowth story of ‘an endless day’. What is this endless day? I have previously suggested this aspect of the Dowth legend refers to the summer solstice.[14] During the longest days of the year, when the rising and setting sun stands still on the horizon in the northeast and northwest, the sun does not set far enough beneath the horizon for astronomical twilight to end. The result is that there is no complete darkness for a number of weeks either side of the June 21st solstice, and in fact there is sufficient light on the longest days to enable one to work through the night hours without artificial light.[15]

Dowth ... darkness came upon the place, according to the Dindshenchas myth.

The darkness that falls upon the place, which is described as nightfall, is perhaps an allusion to a solar eclipse, when, during totality, bright day turns to dark night. A combination of factors suggests that Dowth itself might have been an astronomical device in addition to any funerary function it might have had. The alignment of its southern chamber on winter solstice sunset, discovered by Martin Brennan and Jack Roberts in 1980 and later documented in detail by Anne-Marie Moroney, is now well-known. In fact, each year on the day of winter solstice, the Office of Public Works opens the chamber to the public in the afternoon to allow people to see this phenomenon. This is in stark contrast to Newgrange, where over 30,000 people apply for the ‘Winter Solstice Lottery’ to try to gain an elusive place in the chamber on one of the solstice mornings.

In addition to the mythology, which suggests a sudden darkening during the longest days of the year when a male (sun?) and female (moon?) come together, there are other factors suggesting a more complex cosmological function for the monument. There are thought to be 115 kerb stones at Dowth. This is half of 230, the number of synodic lunar months (new moon to new moon or full moon to full moon) in the 18.6-year moon swing cycle. Carvings upon a kerb stone on the eastern side of Dowth have been interpreted as depictions of a total solar eclipse. In addition, the two known passages of Dowth might have had the moon at its extremes as their principal targets – the southerly major standstill setting moon in the case of Dowth South, and the southerly minor standstill setting moon in the case of Dowth North.[16]

At Newgrange, the ‘red Dagda’[17] and Bóinn make love at a time when they have caused the sun to stand still. It would appear that the mythology of the Dindshenchas is describing, in poetic imagery, the winter solstice illumination of Newgrange, during which the beam of the sun (Dagda) is seen to enter the chamber (the womb of Bóinn[18]). In the dim interior of the cavern, reflected light from the shaft of sunlight on the floor illuminates a triskele or triple spiral emblem on a chamber stone in the rear recess. Is this the emblem of the divine Neolithic trinity – Dagda (sun god), Bóinn (earth mother) and Oengus Óg (the miracle child)?

Dowth has an alignment towards winter solstice sunset. Might it also have a passage aligned to summer solstice?

At Dowth, Bressal and his sister commit incest as the sun is halted in the sky during ‘endless day’, probably at summer solstice. One exciting possibility emerging from the similarities between the myths of Newgrange and Dowth is that Dowth might yet be found to contain a passage and chamber with an orientation towards the summer solstice sunrise or sunset. Dowth is the only one of the three great monuments of Brú na Bóinne that has not been excavated in modern times. There was a botched excavation carried out on the cairn in the 1840s, at the time of the Great Famine, when significant damage was inflicted upon the monument. These ‘excavations’ were led by R.H. Firth at the behest of the Committee of Antiquities of the Royal Irish Academy. Sadly, no official account of this work exists, and the appalling disrespect shown for Dowth during the work in the summers of 1847 and 1848 left the cairn in a state of disarray.[19] Notwithstanding this tremendous vandalism wrought by Firth and his workers, the bulk of the cairn remains intact. Much of the kerb remains buried, and with it, perhaps, indications of further passages into the interior of the cairn which might yet be discovered. If a passage were to be discovered at some point in the future with an orientation towards sunrise or sunset at midsummer this would indeed be remarkable.

Many things are remembered in myth, and indeed in folklore, from misty ages of the past. Descriptions of Newgrange in local folklore before the excavation and restoration of the monument undertaken by Professor Michael J. O’Kelly and his team beginning in 1962 contained information about aspects of the monument’s construction and orientation that could not have been known about in advance of this restoration work.[20]

The descriptions of the monuments, or eminent places, given in poetry and prose in the Dindshenchas manuscripts are veiled to a degree in esoteric language, but they are not entirely opaque to interpretive endeavours and the extrapolation of meaning. To reiterate, Dagda (sun) enters the house of Elcmar (Newgrange/Síd in Broga) and mates with Bóinn while the sun is standing still. Is this not a description, in mythic and symbolic language, of the winter solstice illumination of the sídhe or passage-tomb of Newgrange? The whole monumental landscape is known as Brú na Bóinne (Brug na Bóinde in the archaic Irish), which the Metrical Dindshenchas describes in terms of a ‘clear shining plain’ and a wide road ‘with traffic of hundreds’,[21] with Newgrange as its centrepiece:

The house of Mac ind Oc above thy stead,
a royal sod with true hospitality.[22]

A somewhat obscure and seemingly unintelligible account of heroic deeds on behalf of the Dagda at Newgrange is attested in the ancient Dindshenchas manuscripts, and will be considered here for its cosmological import. This is the story concerning a great monster, called The Mata, and the dismemberment of this strange beast at a sacred stone at Newgrange known as the Lecc Benn.

The Dindshenchas describes Mata as a ‘strange beast’ which is described as having 140 feet and four heads. [23] It is elsewhere described as a tortoise[24] or a ‘Sea-Turtle that could suck down a man in armour’.[25] It was a slow-moving, ‘sluggish’ creature, whose killing at Brug maic ind Óc is shrouded in mystery and arcane language:

…long since had the seer foretold
the beast that was on Lecc Benn.
The beast that was on Lecc Benn
had seven score feet, four heads;
its shank and its toe reached to here,
it licked up the Boyne till it became a valley.
… the strange beast, it found rest:
it was slain on Brug maic ind Óc.[26]

The men who killed it are variously described as ‘skilled hosts’, ‘the mighty Ulstermen’ and ‘the men of Erin’.[27] They strove with the slow-moving Mata ‘so his limbs were broken on Lecc Bend’.[28] Their task was not only to slay the terrifying beast, but to dismember it and throw its limbs into the nearby Boyne river. This aspect of the story – the tearing apart of the beast – suggests it is a local version of a universal creation myth found in other parts of Europe and the world, whereupon ‘the creation is preceded by an act of dismemberment’.[29] The task is an unpleasant one, but apparently requisite in order for the creation of new parts of the landscape to occur:

When the men of Erin broke the limbs of the Matae, the monster that was slain on the Liacc Benn in the Brug maic ind Óc, they threw it limb by limb into the Boyne, and its shinbone (colptha) got to Inber Colptha (the estuary of the Boyne), whence Inber Colptha is said, and the hurdle of its frame (i.e. its breast) went along the sea coasting Ireland till it reached yon ford (áth); whence Áth Cliath is said.[30]

In the early twentieth century, writer Charles Squire credited the destruction of the Mata to the Dagda, but sadly without indicating his source for this claim:

He [Dagda] did great deeds in the battle between the gods and the Fomors, and, on one occasion, is even said to have captured single-handed a hundred-legged and four-headed monster called Mata, dragged him to the ‘Stone of Benn’, near the Boyne, and killed him there.[31]

In Tochmarc Emire, ‘The Wooing of Emer’, the plain of Muirthemne is mentioned. This plain covered what is mostly County Louth today and would have incorporated the great monuments of Brú na Bóinne as it extended as far south as the River Boyne. The name Muirthemne, we are told, is ‘from the Cover of the Sea’, and:

… it is from this it got its name; there was at one time a magic sea on it, with a sea turtle in it that was used to suck men down, until the Dagda came with his club of anger and sang these words, so that it ebbed away on the moment: ‘Silence on your hollow head; Silence on your dark body;Silence on your dark brow.’[32]

What is this mysterious Liacc Benn or Lecc Bend (the spellings vary) upon which the monster was slaughtered? It is described in Dindgnai in Broga, a list of the monuments of the Bend of the Boyne in the Rennes Dindshenchas, simply as ‘the stone of Benn’. R.A.S. Macalister describes the Lecc Benn as ‘the stone on which the Mata was slain’.[33] Its name possibly means the ‘grave stone on the summit’. This author has speculated elsewhere that this stone might have been the one described by antiquarian Edward Lhwyd in the early 1700s as being situated on top of Newgrange, and that it might have functioned as a sort of axis mundi, a cosmic and world axis.[34]

The pole star, N'iatha, is the only one in this image that does not form an arc. All the stars appear to revolve around it.


The Lecc Benn has a possible cosmological significance. It might have been conceivable that the stone mimicked the pole of the sky, and the star known in Irish as N’iatha (that which does not turn). In this cosmological world view, Lecc Benn might have been seen as the terrestrial equivalent of the pole of the sky, a sort of sacred axis around which the entire sky revolved. In the era during which Newgrange was constructed, the star known today as Alpha Draconis, or Thuban, in the constellation Draco (The Dragon), was close to the position of the north pole of the sky. Is it therefore possible that Draco was known in ancient Ireland as Mata, the monster? The head of the Draco constellation is formed of a trapezium of stars – the four heads, perhaps, of the Mata?

We shouldn’t be at all surprised to read that it was the Dagda who killed the Mata. The mysterious sea that covered the plain of Muirthemne was made to vanish by him. One assumes this is a case of the sun drying up all the rain! Indeed we are told that Dagda was the one who:

… performed miracles and saw to the weather and the harvest…[35]

He was the ‘Red Man of all Knowledge’,[36] whose radiance was renowned:

Who was king over all Erin, sweet-sounding, radiant? Who but the skilful Dagda? You hear of none other so famous.[37]

The imagery is decidedly solar. One of his epithets was ‘Deirgderc’, meaning ‘red eye’, which is taken to mean the sun.[38] His killing of the Mata is told in the Dindshenchas story about Mag Muirthemne:

… there was a magic sea over it, and an octopus therein, having a property of suction. It would suck in a man in armour till he lay at the bottom of its treasure-bag. The Dagda came with his ‘mace of wrath’ in his hand, and plunged it down upon the octopus, and chanted these words: ‘Turn thy hollow head! Turn thy ravening body! Turn thy resorbent forehead!  Avaunt! Begone!’ Then the magic sea retired with the octopus; and hence, may be, the place was called Mag Muirthemne.[39]

A mist covers Mound B (the Dagda's Mound) at Brú na Bóinne, with Newgrange on the ridge behind and the Boyne river (foreground).

There is a temptation here to imagine an antediluvian origin for the myth of Muirthemne. Does this passage contain some memory of very ancient events, perhaps when the ice was retreating at the end of the last ice age and the melt waters were creating havoc? In that wise, we can certainly imagine a solar provenance for The Dagda. Although the form of the Mata appears inconstant in the manuscripts, there are aspects of ancient Irish creation myths that are consistent. The Mata licked up the Boyne, causing a deprivation of water. The ‘octopus’[40] mentioned in the Dinshenchas passage about Mag Muirthemne was expelled with the receding sea, causing another deprivation of water, ‘thereby causing to surface the plain of Muirthemne’.[41] I consider these tales to be versions of a very early creation myth, one that probably predates the construction of the great megalithic monuments of the Boyne.

Witzel, for instance, suggests that the motif of killing a dragon and releasing the light of the sun are old motifs that can be dated to well before 20,000 years ago.[42] There are aspects of the Mata/octopus myths that may echo a very ancient deluge that is remembered in hundreds of similar myths from diverse parts of the world.[43]

Very possibly we have here echoes of the deluge myths. The ‘beginning’ stories sound like distorted memories of that hypothetical vast flood which swept over the globe at one time, sparing only a few humans, those in the foothills and the mountains. When the waters subsided, the earth seemed to rise again. Men were not witnesses of the first actual creation, so this later upthrust of peaks and plateaus above the oceanic tides might have prompted the Sea Myths.[44]

His ability to make the sea recede marks Dagda out as a distinctly solar figure. There was a significant change in the climate in Ireland between 3600BC and 3000BC, which brought about colder and wetter conditions.[45]

Farming communities must have been placed under significant pressure by these changes. A curious, and thus far unexplained, aspect of passage tomb construction is that the monuments increase in size and complexity even as the climate was degenerating and agriculture becoming more difficult. Particularly, there seems to be a greater investment in passage tomb construction in parallel with the deteriorating conditions.[46]

Perhaps the megalithic builders of the late Neolithic constructed the greatest of their monuments – Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth – in an effort to somehow appease or placate the Dagda, in order to avert an environmental catastrophe. This is hinted at in De Gabáil int Síde when:

… the Túatha Dé destroyed the corn and the milk round about the Mac Míled [sons of Mil] until they made the friendship of the Dagda.[47]

In other words, stay on the Dagda’s good side or your harvest will fail! Certainly the worsening conditions would have made farming more difficult for this early agrarian community. Sensing that the deteriorating climate was making growing food more challenging, one can imagine that the community would have more zealously participated, perhaps with a sense of urgency, in the building of the great cairns. The amount of labour and exertion required for this construction project was truly immense. For instance, the mean weight of the kerb stones at Knowth, of which there were 127, was five tonnes.[48]

Midwinter sunrise at Newgrange. Were the builders trying to call Dagda back to his full strength?

If there was a sense that the winter sun was seen to be weakening, and that as a result the weather was deteriorating and agriculture (and along with it survival) was becoming more difficult, a monument aligned towards the sun (Dagda) at its lowest ebb on winter solstice resembles a project that would unite the community towards a goal that might help avert a climatological doomsday situation. Were the builders trying to call Dagda back to his full strength?

We don’t know the full extent of the effects of a worsening climate, but a community dependent on agriculture would feel the pinch more acutely. Perhaps the people who inhabited the Bend of the Boyne at that time began to experience something of a famine? The promise of a feast in the otherworld, magically prepared by the Dagda, underlines the precariousness of early agrarian life in eastern Ireland. Dagda was said to have kept two pigs in Newgrange, one roasting on a spit, the other ready for slaughter, as a means, perhaps, of eternally satisfying hunger in the otherworld:

There are three trees there perpetually bearing fruit and an everliving pig on the hoof and a cooked pig, and a vessel with excellent liquor, and all of this never grows less.[49]

Perhaps Dagda was worshipped as some type of agrarian deity. According to Squire, an old Irish tract called ‘The Choice of Names’ refers to him as a god of the earth. Furthermore:

… he had a cauldron called ‘The Undry’, in which everyone found food in proportion to his merits, and from which none went away unsatisfied. He also had a living harp; as he played upon it, the seasons came in their order – spring following winter, and summer succeeding spring, autumn coming after summer, and, in its turn, giving place to winter.[50]

Whatever his bounty, and all his strengths in the dealings of the Tuatha Dé Danann against the Fomorians, the Dagda is dethroned, in quite a humiliating fashion, by his own son, Oengus Óg, who takes Síd in Broga from him by trickery or ‘verbal ambiguity’.[51] When the síd (sídhe or otherworld mounds) are being distributed by the Dagda, his son Oengus is absent, and is therefore omitted. Oengus comes to Brú na Bóinne and demands a síd from his father, who tells him that there are none left. Oengus petitions his father to be allowed to stay in Newgrange ‘for a day and a night’. Dagda agrees, but when the day and night have elapsed, Oengus refuses to budge. He outlines his logic for this refusal:

He had been granted, he claimed, day and night, and it is of days and nights that time and eternity are composed; therefore there was no limit to his tenure of the sídh.[52]

Such rhetoric might have satisfied the ancient poets, but for the chief deity to succumb to such pithy and insubstantial logic seems extraordinary. But perhaps these are the lengths that parents will go to to appease their offspring! Indeed Dagda had allowed Oengus to be ‘hidden’ from Elcmar by being fostered at Brí Leith with Midir. This was, firmly, Oengus’s homecoming. He had made a defiant return to the Brug and he was here to stay.

Thus Dagda was dispossessed; and the síd, passing to Oengus, took his name, Brug Maic Ind Óc.[53]

The late scholar Seán Ó Duinn said that the story of Dagda, Bóinn and Oengus represented the ‘Myth of the Eternal Return’.[54] Ó Duinn wrote that at the winter solstice, Dagda and Bóinn mate, and overnight the young son, Oengus Óg, is born. Oengus represents the youthful, growing sun, whose power and strength develops with the length of day. When summer solstice arrives on June 21, Oengus realises that he is no longer youthful. As the year wanes from summer to winter, Oengus Óg becomes the father figure, the Dagda, the old sun god. And, inevitably, Dagda reaches the final day, winter solstice, again, and ‘the process of alternation proceeds for ever and ever.’[55]

After his dispossession of his prized palace, the Dagda ‘fades from the limelight’.[56] The Tuatha Dé Danann hold a council to elect a new ruler, but Oengus is not among the candidates. The new leader is Bodb Dearg (Bodb the red), the eldest son of Dagda.[57]

There may be aspects of the declining climatological conditions that explain why, in the mythology, the older gods in the form of Dagda, or (depending on the version) Elcmar, were deposed by the youthful and vital Oengus Óg. It wasn’t just the case that the old sun of the year had lost its strength and was being dethroned by a new, vigorous young sun:

It might have been just as likely that the old sun that had been the friend of the Neolithic farmer since the earlier introduction of agrarian practices into Ireland was seen to be gradually waning over the centuries and that the arrival of Oengus Óg as the new owner of Síd in Broga signified the wish of the community that the climate be turned back in their favour.[58]

Whatever happened, the zenith of the megalithic passage-tomb era had arrived, and, perhaps surprisingly, passed just as quickly. The greatest of the Irish megalithic monuments – Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth – were possibly among the last to be built.[59]

But the legacy of the early deities associated with Newgrange and the monuments in the literature lives on. Although much of it was written down in medieval times, there is no doubt that certain elements of the stories have a very ancient provenance. Some of the myths appear to carry with them information about aspects of the function and design of the monuments. In certain cases, the pre-excavation local folklore was to prove extraordinarily accurate in depicting details that could not easily have been known in the days before the archaeologists excavated and restored Newgrange. In particular, there were locally recorded traditions about Newgrange that were proven accurate by the excavation. One was the claim that Newgrange was once covered with white quartz, an assertion that might have seemed outlandish until Professor Michael J. O’Kelly found white quartz beneath the cairn slip material – quartz which, the archaeological community tells us, was likely to have been buried for about 4,000 years.[60] The other was that the rays of the rising sun at certain times of the year enter the opening and penetrate into the central chamber.[61]

I am most fascinated by the Dindshenchas passage that describes how Dagda entered the house of Elcmar and mated with Bóinn as the sun was standing still in the heavens. Here, dear reader and scholar of ancient mysteries, is contained, in sublime poetic language, a description of the winter solstice illumination of Síd in Broga, written down at a time when Newgrange had collapsed and its entrance and passage were sealed off from prying eyes, and when the marvellous and awe-inspiring flooding of its cold interior with the warm golden light beams of winter sun hadn’t been seen by human eyes for several millennia.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe visit Newgrange every year. One of the first sights they behold are the huge swirling spirals on the entrance kerb stone. The triple spiral dominates – a symbol, perhaps, of the ancient divine trinity: Dagda, Bóinn and Oengus Óg. It is indeed astounding that the monument has survived mostly intact into the modern era. But It is equally astonishing that, over 5,000 years since it was built, its oldest names and traditions have not been forgotten. Although it has had a few name changes, and is associated with many mythical and imagined events of the past, for me it remains the great Síd in Broga, the palace of the gods, the abode of the Dagda.

This article first appeared as a chapter in the book Harp, Club & Cauldron: A Harvest of Knowledge, edited by Lora O'Brien and Morpheus Ravenna.


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MacKillop, James (2000), Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press.

Murphy, Anthony (2017), Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past, The Liffey Press.

Murphy, Anthony (2012), Newgrange: Monument to Immortality, The Liffey Press.

Murphy, Anthony and Moore, Richard (2008) [2006), Island of the Setting Sun: In Search of Ireland’s Ancient Astronomers, The Liffey Press.

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Squire, Charles (1998) [1912], Mythology of the Celtic People, Senate.

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Witzel, E.J. Michael (2012), The Origins of the World’s Mythologies, Oxford University Press.


[1] Spelt Brug na Bóinde in the Dindshenchas. In modern Irish, it is rendered Brú na Bóinne.

[2] Ó hÓgáin (1991), p. 146.

[3] MacCulloch, (1996), p. 50. The allocation of the mounds is described in a tale called De Gabáil int Síde (The Taking of the Otherworld Mounds).

[4] Gwynn (1906), p. 19.

[5] See Murphy (2017), p. 262 and also Murphy and Moore (2008), chapter seven, Newgrange: The Cygnus Enigma.

[6] Murphy (2017), p. 262.

[7] MacKillop (2000), p. 177.

[8] Gwynn (1913), p. 37.

[9] Murphy (2017), p. 26.

[10] Carey (1990), p. 27.

[11] Murphy & Moore (2008), pp. 118, 313.

[12] Gwynn (1924), pp 271-3.

[13] Ibid., p. 273.

[14] Murphy & Moore (2008), chapter 6, Dowth: The Darkening of the Sky.

[15] In fact, this author has spent time at Dowth at midsummer on a few occasions, and noticed that even at 1am there is sufficient twilight to continue to walk around the monument without the aid of artificial light.

[16] Murphy & Moore, op. cit.

[17] Gwynn (1906), p. 19.

[18] For discussion of the idea that Newgrange might have been a womb, see Murphy & Moore (2008), chapter 8, Newgrange: Womb of the Moon.

[19] See Murphy (2017), pp. 76-79 and Murphy (2012), p. 103.

[20] Murphy (2017), chapter 1.5, The archaeologist who unwisely dismissed Newgrange folklore.

[21] Gwynn (1906), p. 11.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Gwynn (1913), p. 101.

[24] Stokes (1894), p. 293.

[25] Gregory (2014), p. 64.

[26] Gwynn (1913), p. 101.

[27] Murphy (2017), p. 58.

[28] Thompson, Chris (2014), The Dindshenchas of Brug na Bóinde, Boyne Valley, Co. Meath, (Extracted 11 September 2017).

[29] See Freund (2003), chapter 6, Out of the Monster.

[30] Stokes, op. cit., p. 329.

[31] Squire (1998), p. 54.

[32] Gregory (2004), p. 354.

[33] Macalister (1919), p. 242.

[34] Murphy (2017), pp. 63-65.

[35] Gantz (1981), p. 39.

[36] Gregory (2004), p. 64.

[37] Gwynn (1924), p. 105.

[38] MacKillop (2000), p. 125.

[39] Gwynn (1924), p. 295.

[40] The word ‘octopus’ is a translation from the Irish muir-selche. The word seilche means a turtle or tortoise, or a snail.

[41] Ó hÓgáin (1991), p. 146.

[42] Witzel (2012), p. 154.

[43] See, for instance, Hancock (2001), p. 208, and Freund (2003), chapter 4, The Watery Birth.

[44] Freund (2003), p. 47.

[45] Hensey (2015), p. 29.

[46] Ibid.

[47] . Extracted 13th January 2018.

[48] Eogan and Cleary (2017), p. 562.

[49] Waddell (2015), p. 80, quoted from Kock & Carey, The Celtic hero age, p. 145.

[50] Squire (1998), p. 54.

[51] Ó hÓgáin (2006), p. 21.

[52] Squire (1998), p. 139.

[53] MacCulloch (1996), p. 50.

[54] Ó Duinn (2011), p. 208.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Murphy (2012), p. 173.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Murphy (2017), p. 134.

[59] See Murphy (2012), chapter 12, What Came After Newgrange?

[60] See Murphy (2017), chapter 1.5, The archaeologist who unwisely dismissed Newgrange folklore, and Murphy (2012), chapter 6, The Test of Time.

[61] Murphy (2017), p. 38.

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