Newgrange vanished from history until 1699, when workers for a Scottish farmer who owned the land dug up stones to use as pavers and uncovered the entrance. A succession of archeologists, most prominently Edward Lhwyd, director of Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum (1699), and Sir Thomas Molyneux, Professor of Physick (sic) at the University of Dublin (1725), visited the site. Most attributed the monument to such foreign invaders as the Vikings and the Normans. In the words of Michael O’Kelly, the archeologist who oversaw the 20th century excavation of Newgrange, “almost any race under the sun was considered eligible save for the natives themselves,” the Irish being thought too unsophisticated to have built such a structure.
Another early visitor was archeologist Sir William Wilde (1847 and 1849), father of Oscar Wilde, author of a charming book, The Beauties of the Boyne, that be can read online. Inside the chamber, Wilde wrote, “an air of mystery steals over the senses—a religious awe pervades the place; and while we do not put any faith in the wild fantasies of those antiquaries of the last century, who would make the world believe that this was a great Druid temple…in which the sacred rites of Paganism, with its human sacrifices were enacted, we wonder less at the flight which their imaginations have taken.”
Brú na Bóinne, the Irish name for Newgrange, was mentioned in the dindshenchas, stories about ancient Irish places and how they got their names. But the British and Scottish landowners who had come to control much of Ireland were ignorant of these traditions. The Irish learned class had ceased to exist and books in Irish went undeciphered in libraries.
In 1882, Newgrange came under the care of the state Board of Public Works (now the Office of Public Works). An iron gate was erected to control access. In 1912, George Coffey, first keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, presented a paper, “Newgrange and other Incised Tumuli in Ireland,” to the Royal Irish Academy.
(“Tumulus” is the term used on the OPW sign at entrance to the tomb site:)
Day trips from Dublin began in 1896, first by train, then by bus. A somewhat inaccurate guidebook was published in 1939. Electricity was installed on the site in the 1950s. O’Kelley’s excavation began in 1962 and continued until 1975. The entire Bend of the Boyne was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center opened shortly after.
Additional excavation has been done around the site, but there is a consensus among archeologists that extensive work should await the development of new tools and methods.