A visit to the ancient site of Dowth is one of the more popular things to do in Meath amongst visiting history aficionados.
The cairn at Dowth is quite big, measuring 280 feet (85 metres) in diameter and 50 feet (15 metres) in height, however, it’s what lies beneath the ground that piques the interest of many.
In the guide below, you’ll find info on everything for where to get parking near Dowth to what to look out for when you arrive.
Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Dowth Passage Tomb
2. You can visit directly
Unlike both Newgrange and Knowth, you will not need to go to Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre to access Dowth. You can simply drive directly to the entrance. You won’t need a ticket and the entrance is free.
3. Parking (warning!)
There is a tiny bit of parking right in front of the entrance (here on Google Maps). When you’re parking, make sure to keep in off the road. You can walk to Dowth Passage Tomb from here in a couple of minutes.
4. No public access
Unfortunately, there is no public access to the interior of this impressive Neolithic passage tomb, so you’ll have to make-do with admiring Dowth from the outside.
5. Astronomical alignment
Just like Newgrange, Dowth is aligned with the winter solstice. During the winter solstice, the evening sunlight shines into the passage tomb and continues into its chamber, where it illuminates three stones.
The History of Dowth
If you’re planning on visiting Dowth Passage Tomb, it’s worth taking a moment to understand a little bit of its history, to provide context for when you arrive.
Below, you’ll find a brief history of Dowth, from its early history to its eventual excavations. In the next section, you’ll discover what to look out for when you get there.
Unlike nearby Newgrange and Knowth, Dowth Passage Tomb has yet to been independently dated. While some scholars believe it was constructed in the same period as Newgrange, in 3200 BC, others date the tomb to more recent times, between 2,500 and 2,000 BC.
The purpose of this Dowth is still unclear, however, some believe that it served a ritual function due to its alignment with the winter solstice.
Unfortunately, Dowth was badly damaged by excavations that took place during 1847 when, in the process of trying to reveal its mysteries, a crater was dug in the centre of the main mound.
The excavations in Dowth began under the recommendations of the Committee of Antiquities of the Royal Irish Academy. The main purpose of the works was to find a new chamber that was believed to be in the centre of the mound.
In an attempt to locate its chamber, it was decided that the best course of action was to cut the structure horizontally. Dowth was irreversibly damaged in the process.
Things that lay above and below the surface of Dowth
When you visit Dowth Passage Tomb, you need to use your imagination, as many of its most impressive features lay just below the surface.
Here’s a mix of things above ground to keep an eye out for along with several ancient structures that remain (safely…) underground.
1. The 280 ft cairn
The cairn at Dowth measures 280 feet (85 metres) in diameter and 50 feet (15 metres) in height. It’s visible from the moment that you pull into the parking area, and it never fails to deliver a little jolt of excitement to those visiting for the first time.
2. The passages
There are three main entrances to Dowth Passage Tomb. The longest passage can be found at Dowth North, where a corridor of about 59 feet (18 metres) leads to a cruciform chamber. The right-hand arm of the cross leads to an extra room known as the ‘annex’.
The second passage, Dowth South, is way shorter and measures only 11.5 feet (3.5 metres). Dowth South ends in a circular room with a modern concrete roof. It is believed that the original roof was made out of corbels.
An extra passage was added to this structure around the 10th or 11th centuries. This early Christian souterrain can still be seen nowadays from the west side of the site and leads to the passage at Dowth North.
3. The kerbstones
Dowth was originally surrounded by 115 kerbstones. Only fifteen are still visible and each is decorated with Neolithic art (you’ll often hear people compare them to Celtic symbols).
The most interesting one is kerbstone 51, also known as the ‘Stone of the Seven Suns’. This particular kerbstone has several radial circular carvings that represent the sun.
It’s likely that other kerbstones may still be buried under the soil and further excavations may soon bring them to light.
Things to do near Dowth
One of the beauties of Dowth Passage Tomb is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Meath.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Dowth, many of which are part of the Boyne Valley Drive.
1. Newgrange and Knowth (2-minute drive)
Just a few miles away from Dowth, you will find two other Neolithic passage tombs: Newgrange and Knowth. To access these two sites you will have to first go to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Make sure to book your visit in advance online!
2. Old Mellifont Abbey (10-minute drive)
Another interesting site near Dowth is Old Mellifont Abbey. It was built in 1142 by a group of French monks who decided to return to their hometown before its completion. It soon became the first Cistercian monastery in the whole of Ireland.
3. Slane Castle (10-minute drive)
Slane Castle is one of the more popular castles in Ireland. Over the years, it’s hosted everyone from Eminem to Bon Jovi. There’s an excellent tour here and there’s also a whiskey distillery you can take a tour of on-site. Make sure to visit the nearby Hill of Slane, also.
FAQs about visiting Dowth Passage Tomb
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is there parking nearby?’ to ‘Do you have to get tickets?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is Dowth worth visiting?
If you’re in the area and you’re a fan of history, then yes. If you have to choose between Newgrand, Knowth and Dowth, go for Newgrange and Knowth.
How old is Dowth?
Although it hasn’t been independently dated, it’s believe that Dowth dates between 2,500 and 2,000 BC.
What was Dowth used for?
It’s believe, due to it’s alignment with the winter solstice, that Dowth served a ritual function, similar to Newgrange.
Cristina fell in love with Ireland’s breath-taking landscapes, quirky folklore and traditional music while studying in Limerick. Many years later, her love for all things Irish is just as strong.