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Knowth ( ; ) is a Neolithic passage grave, an ancient monument of Brú na Bóinnemarker in the valley of the River Boynemarker in Irelandmarker.

Knowth is the largest of all passage graves situated within the Brú na Bóinne complex. The site consists of one large mound (known as Site 1) and 17 smaller satellite tombs. Essentially Knowth (Site 1) is a large mound (covering roughly a hectare) and contains two passages, placed along an east-west line. It is encircled by 127 kerbstones (3 of which are missing, 4 are badly damaged). The passages are independent of each other (they do not meet) and each lead to a burial chamber. The eastern passage leads to a cruciform chamber, not unlike that to be found at Newgrangemarker. It contains three recesses and basin stones into which the cremated remains of the dead were placed.

The right-hand recess is larger and more elaborately decorated with megalithic art than the others, which is typical for Irish passage graves of this type. The reason for this is unknown. The western passage ends in an undifferentiated chamber (ie: it has no sides, it is a rectangular room). This chamber is separated from the passage by a sillstone. The chamber seems to have also contained a basin stone. This was later removed and is now located about two thirds down the passageway.

Megalithic art

Knowth contains more than a third of the total number of examples of megalithic art in all Western Europe. Over 200 decorated stones were found during excavations at Knowth. Much of the artwork is found on the kerbstones, particularly approaching the entrances to the passages. Many of the motifs found at Knowth are typical; spirals, lozenges and serpentiform. However, the megalithic art at Knowth contains a wide variety of images, such as crescent shapes. Interestingly, much of this artwork was carved on backs of the stones. This type of megalithic art is known as hidden art. This suggests all manner of theories as regards the function of megalithic art within the Neolithic community which built the monuments in the Boyne valley. It is possible that they intended the art to be hidden. It is also possible that they simply recycled stones and reused the other side.


There is some evidence for late Neolithic and Bronze Age activity on the site at Knowth. Most of this stems from the existence of a grooved ware timber circle located near the entrance to the eastern passage. Archeological evidence suggests that this was used as a ritual or sacred area after the great mound at Knowth had already fallen into disuse. Evidence for ritual consists of a large number of votive offerings found in and around the immediate areas of the timbers that formed the circle. The Normans used Knowth as a motte in the 12th century.

The hill at Knowth fell into disrepair and the mound or cairn slipped, causing the entrances to both passages to be covered. The site remained practically unused for a period of two thousand years. The site was briefly used as a burial site; some 35 cist graves were found on site during excavations. These seem to be Celtic burials. Many of the bodies found were female. One particularly interesting grave contained the bodies of two young men, decapitated and buried together with a gaming set.

In the late Iron age and early Christian period, it became a hill fort with encircling ditches and souterrains added. By this stage, Knowth for the first time became a habitational site. Two ditches were dug, one at the base of the mound, behind the kerbstones, the other at the top. At this stage, the entrances to both passages seem to have been discovered. Evidence for this include early Christian graffiti on the stones in the eastern chamber. Four names were carved in ogham. It seems it was at this stage, the basin stone from the western chamber was moved, in an attempt to remove it, and was abandoned in the passage because it got stuck. At this time, Knowth was a very significant political site and was the capital of the Kingdom of Northern Brega.

Knowth site
After a brief military interlude with the Normans invasion of Irelandmarker, Knowth fell into the hands of the monks at Mellifontmarker abbey. It seems that the mound was then again used as a grange or farm. Stone walls were built on top of the mound and stone buildings within the walls. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the site was used mainly for agricultural purposes until most of the site was purchased by the state in 1939.

Because of the east-west orientation of the passages at Knowth, suggestions of astronomical alignment with the spring and summer equinoxes exist. The alignment at Knowth does not occur today. This is due to a number of factors. First of all, the passages were discovered by later settlers and were to some extent destroyed or incorporated into souterrains. In other words, the original entrances to the passages were distorted or destroyed so it is difficult to establish if an alignment existed in the first place. It seems likely that the passages were intended to align. Also the alignments of ancient monuments can change due to Milankovitch cycles.

A brief excavation of the site was carried out in 1941 by Professor Macallister. However, major full scale excavations began on the site in 1962 and were undertaken by Professor George Eogan of University College Dublinmarker. When his excavations began, very little was known about the full extent of the site. The entrances to the western and eastern passages were discovered in 1967 and 1968 respectively and slowly the layers of activity at the site of Knowth were uncovered.

Access to Knowth

Access to Knowth is by guided tour only. There is no direct access. All tours begin at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre in Donore, County Meathmarker. There is no access to the grave chambers of Knowth. Visitors are able to see down the eastern passage and visit the modern interpretive room constructed just off this passage.

Kings of Cnogba/Knowth

List incomplete: see Mac Shamhráin, 2004.

  1. Congal mac Áed Sláine, died 634
  2. Conaig mac Congal (a quo Uí Chonaing), d. 662
  3. Congalach mac Conaing, d. 696
  4. Amalgaid mac Congalach, d. 718
  5. Conaing mac Amalgaid, d. 742
  6. Congalach mac Conaing, d. 778
  7. ...
  8. Flannacan mac Cellach (descendant of Congalach), d. 896
  9. Máel Finnia mac Flannacán, d. 903
  10. Máel Mithig mac Flannacán, d. 919
  11. Congalach mac Mael Mithig (rí Cnogba), d. 956

External links


  • Byrne, Francis John, Irish Kings and High-Kings. Batsford, London, 1973. ISBN 0-7134-5882-8
  • Ailbhe Mac Shamhráin, Church and dynasty in Early Christian Brega: Lusk, Inis Pátraic and the cast of Máel-Finnia, king and saint, Table 8.1, Lineages of Síl nÁedo Sláine, p.127; in The Island of St Patrick: Church and ruling dynasties in Fingal and Meath, 400-1148, (ed.) Mac Shamhráin, Four Courts, 2004.

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