Excavation of Newgrange Ireland VIEW SOURCE
Biography Ireland VIEW SOURCE
Michael J O'Kelly 19151915

Michael J O'Kelly 1915

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Place of migration
Stayed in Ireland

Professor Michael J. O'Kelly was born in Abbeyfeale, County Limerick in 1915. Although he was Christened as Michael, his family called him Brian. 

He was one of Ireland's most prominent archaeologists, having studied at University College Cork. His legacy is long-standing and his body of work is incredibly well respected in the field of archaeological academia. Shortly after graduating with his MA, he was appointed to the role of curator at the Cork Public Museum, a position which he retained for over 20 years. He also replaced his great mentor Seán O'Ríordáin as head of the archaeology department at his alma mater, UCC. 

He is best known for directing the excavations at Newgrange, arguably Ireland's most important pre-historic monument. The excavations took place from 1961 to 1975. 

It was O'Kelly who confirmed the phenomenon whereby the dawn light enters the passage tomb through the roof box on the morning of the Winter Solstice. It then travels along the passage, eventually settling on a carved tri-spiral or triskele in the furthest reaches of the tomb. The story had been told by a number of locals that there was a day in the year when this occured, but nobody could say for sure when it was. By analysing the orientation of the tomb, O'Kelly decided that the most likely date for this was the morning of the 21st of December, the shortest day of the year. In 1967, he tested his theory and spent the morning alone in the tomb. He was treated to an incredible feat of pre-historic astronomical engineering. As the early morning light filled the chamber, O'Kelly became the first person, perhaps in thousands of years, to witness this majestic event. 

Prof. O'Kelly and his wife Claire are often credited with having changed the face of Irish archaelogy. Their excavations at Newgrange pushed the date of construction of the monument back 1,000 years, making it older than both Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. 

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Additional Information
Date of Birth 1st Jan 1915
Date of Death 1st Oct 1982
Associated Building (s) Newgrange  


  • Great story.  Thanks for bringing him back into the light!


    Thursday 10th December 2020 03:54PM
  • I have visite Newgrange on many a soltice day and was not aware of this chapter of history. Thank you


    Jennifer Jean Volunteer

    Killeedy1 Limerick, Volunteer Ireland Reaching Out ☘️

    Wednesday 24th March 2021 09:13PM

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